Alcorn Middle School tries single-sex fifth-grade classrooms

CORINTH – Urged to explore new and creative ways to help students, Alcorn Central Middle School Principal Dan Burcham decided to pilot a program to place fifth-grade girls and boys in separate classrooms.
His request was approved last week by the Alcorn County School Board.
“We’re trying it in fifth grade only this year to see if we get the results we’re looking for,” Burcham said. “If it’s successful we’ll move it on up to sixth grade with the students who are already in the single-gender classrooms, and bring in the new fifth-graders with it.”
Burcham and his staff are hoping for the results that have been reported in much of the research literature: improved test scores and a decrease in discipline problems.
Alcorn Middle School has three boys’ classes and two girls’ classes in fifth grade this year under the new arrangement.
“The resource classes are not gender based, so boys and girls are together there and during afternoon break,” he said.
Research reported by the National Association for the Advancement of Single Sex Public Education supports separating boys and girls in the classroom, saying girls gain in math and science studies, spend more time studying and doing homework and spend more time on task in the classroom.
For boys the benefits include more development of reading and writing skills, decrease in high school dropout rates, ability to discuss sensitive issues, learning to collaborate and less gender distraction.
At Hunt Intermediate School in Columbus, Principal Tamala Barr said the fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms that implemented single-sex classrooms during the past four years did achieve the positive results.
“In their academic outcomes they soared,” Barr said. “On the fifth-grade math assessment, where girls generally are not expected to do as well, one female student had a perfect score. This was not a select group of children handpicked to succeed. We made sure we had a range of demographics in the classroom for race, income, gifted and struggling. We saw a lot of pluses.”
Construction of a new school will send fifth-graders and sixth-graders in different directions next year, fifth grade to elementary and sixth grade to middle school, Barr said, so they do not have a single-gender class this year while preparing the students for the school changes.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal