Coed no more

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Fourteen-year-old Cassidy Chamberlain and 15-year-old Anthony Carter are in a state of shock.

On Monday, the Martin Middle School eighth graders learned of their high school fates – Dallas County High School Principal Susan Jones announced freshman classes would be gender separated this fall as part of a new program called Freshman Academy. The days of coed learning are over, at least for a little while.

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Both students said there was a collective gasp among their peers following the announcement. Said Jones, “I think they almost hyperventilated.”

The general consensus among MMS students Tuesday – “It sucks,” Carter said. “People think it’s not really a good idea to separate the boys from the girls. I don’t think it’s going to help.”

“I was kind of surprised I guess, but in a way I think it’s a good idea,” said Chamberlain. “People will probably pay attention more in class and grades will probably go up.”

A fast-growing trend in education, single-sex educational opportunities are offered in at least 209 U.S. schools, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE). In June 2005, researchers at Cambridge University released a four-year study on gender differences in education. Studies show single-sex classrooms tend to boost males’ performance particularly in English and foreign languages while females improve in math and science.

Jones said the idea of single-sex classrooms has been a hot topic among Dallas County school officials for some time. After reviewing several research documents, Jones believes Freshman Academy is an excellent move for DCHS and its male students.

” When the transition is made from eighth grade to ninth grade, a lot of students, particularly the young men, seem to fall behind,” she said. “Research has proven it is probably happening at this particular grade level because of the frustrations (of entering high school).

“(Single-sex classrooms) will cut down on some things we see. Ninth graders are a bit immature and they tend to argue with each other a lot. If we have them so that they are with their own sex then typically there’s not as much need to show off and impress other people.”

Jones also added the change may help the school meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements. DCHS did not meet AYP last year due to high dropout rates.

To curb dropout numbers, freshman will take a high school orientation class that covers everything from how to take notes to making social adjustments, Jones said.

As the 2006-2007 school year unfolds, school officials will monitor the progress of Freshman Academy.

Said Jones, “If (students) were successful at Martin, we don’t want them to bottom out in the ninth grade and not get back on track.”

The Verdict

Single-sex classrooms have proven to be successful at surrounding Alabama schools.

Maplesville High School began offering single-classrooms in grades 4, 5 and 6 during the 2004-2005 school year. Student achievement on DIBELS testing showed dramatic improvement. Fourth graders benchmarked at 21 percent prior to the introduction of single-sex classes. The following spring, the students showed a dramatic increase in performance, scoring at 75 percent.

Like Maplesville, Ervin Elementary School in Wilcox County implemented single-sex classes this school year. Principal Richard Bryant said students’ shifts in attitude are phenomenal as a result of the gender separation.

“Our data is far superior this year to last year’s based on single sex classes,” Bryant said. “We fully expect to meet AYP based on the enthusiasm we saw in male classes. We feel like it’s going to be a success.”

Prior to single-sex classrooms, Bryant noticed his male students were a few steps behind his female students. After monitoring the progress of the single-sex classrooms, “our boys are competitive with our girls, but still the girls are a step or two ahead of them,” he said.