Enquirer Herald

Single-gender class bell rings in York

YORK -- Jefferson Elementary School will test the waters next year on a program that will separate fifth grade boys and girls.

The school will be starting two single-gender fifth grade classrooms in hopes of fostering a better learning environment. Current fourth grade parents can learn more about single-gender classrooms Tuesday during an informational session at 6:30 p.m. at the school.

Jefferson administrators decided to give the single-gender classrooms a shot after hearing about the positive results other districts have had, said Principal Jane Wallace.

Studies show that boys and girls see, hear and react to their environment differently, so it makes sense that they learn differently, advocates of single-gender classrooms say. By targeting the different learning styles, students tend to perform better, studies have shown.

"The research says it's working well," Wallace said. "Female students start to achieve more in science and math, which a lot of times girls don't do as well there."

The school chose to start the program in grade five because that's where students struggle the most, Wallace said. "That's where all that tension between boys and girls seems to start," she said.

By separating students by gender, teachers can target their different learning styles, Wallace said.

Boys appear to do better in a classroom where there's a little stress and they can compete, whereas girls seem to strive better with less stress and more social interaction, she said. Boys also tend to perform better when their seats are in rows and they have a partner beside them. Girls prefer being grouped in circles or in U-shapes where they can look at each other, Wallace said.

That isn't to say that girls and boys can't do or learn the same things, said David Chadwell, director for the state's single-gender initiatives.

Single-gender classes are just another way of appealing to different learning styles.

More than 90 schools in South Carolina now offer some form of single-gender classes, Chadwell said. Many have found test scores increased and students were more confident, he said.

Across the county, Fort Mill Middle School is preparing to implement a similar program.

"We've learned a lot from the research, like boys learn better with a lot of motion, when the teacher is moving around a lot, but for girls, emotion is more important and a lot of movement is distracting," Fort Mill Middle School Principal Tommy Schmolze said Monday. "They even learn better at different temperatures: 69 degrees is optimal for boys, 75 degrees is optimal for girls."

The Phoenix Academy in Rock Hill tried single-gender classrooms for students in a ninth grade transition program.

Phoenix Director Walter Wolff said the program allowed for some conversations about personal subjects that might not have happened with the opposite gender in the room, he said. Teachers also said the students were often less distracted.

But overall, he said the negatives outweighed the positives and they decided to end the program.

"It just didn't lend itself to overall good discussion and conversations," he said. "The dynamics of the classroom seemed to be more favorable for learning when it was the mixed as opposed to the single."

Test scores didn't appear affected by the change, he said.

Since none of the high schools have single-gender classrooms, some also questioned the value of getting students used to an environment they wouldn't stay in, Wolff said.

Chadwell said students typically have time to interact with each other during some classes such as art, at lunch and before and after school. Because they're more successful in their classes, students in single-gender classes tend to be more confident and have no trouble interacting with the opposite gender, he said.

Parents of children at Jefferson will be able to opt their kids out of the class if they want. Those students would be placed in one of two co-ed fifth grade classes.

Once implemented, the district will evaluate to see whether it would be beneficial for other schools or grades.

-- Fort Mill Times contributed