Boy-girl experiment?

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The boys spread throughout Tim Carroll’s classroom as they began working on an assignment.
Some carried clipboards and walked around while they wrote their answers. Others lay on the carpet, sat on the floor or stayed in a desk while they worked.
Carroll’s all-boys third-grade class is one of four new single-gender classes at the third- to fifth-grade school. There is one all-boys class and one all-girls class in third grade and one of each in fourth grade.
Although it’s too early for any definitive data about how the new program has affected student achievement, parents, teachers and students directly involved in the classes have been positive about the change through its first semester.
“My husband and I feel like it is the best decision we’ve ever made for our son education-wise,” said Rhonda Rousseau, whose 9-year-old, Jacob, is in Carroll’s class. “Mr. Carroll has truly tapped into the boys’ learning style.”
Carroll’s classroom is structured to allow the boys more freedom to move around.
“I don’t mind them standing, walking around or sitting on the floor, as long as they’re engaged and focused on what we are doing,” Carroll said.
Next to his room was a much more subdued environment. The students in Amanda Ball’s third-grade all-girls class sat quietly in a circle while their teacher led them in a math lesson about stacking rows of blocks.
A calming feeling permeated the room, whose only light was provided by two windows and and three lamps placed in its corners. After the lesson, the students quietly sat in their desks and wrote as instrumental music played in the background.
“Girls tend to like soft lighting in a room, and a really relaxed atmosphere,” Ball said.
The school’s single-gender classes emerged from research done by Principal Terry Harbin that looked at the advantages of addressing learning styles unique to boys and girls. The district allowed Harbin to pilot the classes at this school.
Those classes, which vary in size from 19 to 22 students, were only for those who chose to be in them. Teachers and administrators are quick to point out that the single-gender classes don’t work for all students.
Carroll said his is best for those who learn better when they move around. Ball said hers works well for those who thrive in an organized, highly structured environment.
Harbin already has seen several benefits from the classes. He said that there have been no office referrals from any of the single-gender classes this year and that tardies and absences are a lot lower in those classes than in the coeducational ones.
He also said that the students in the single-gender classes seem to have formed closer bonds than those in other classes.
Harbin said that based on the experiences he’s seen so far, he would like to see the program spread to the school’s fifth grade next year and eventually to spread within the district. He did emphasize that coeducational classes would always still be available as required by law.
Keeping the single-gender classes would be just fine with many of the students enrolled in them.
Cameron Blanchard, 9, said her classroom is less distracting – and also smells better – without boys. Olivia Love, 9, said that fourth-grade teacher Tosha Armstrong has made the all-girls class a lot of fun.
“It is different because there are absolutely no things on the floor every day that you could easily step on and break that belong to the boys,” Cameron said.
Meanwhile, fourth-graders Weston Filgo, 10, and Deonta Gillard, 9, both like the freedom to move around in their all-boys class.
“If we made good grades, we can come out here and play games,” Weston said.
The boys and girls aren’t completely segregated. They go to lunch, recess and physical education together. Fourth-grade all-girls teacher Armstrong said that she and Courtney Wilemon, the fourth-grade all-boys teacher, have been talking about projects that the two classes can work on together during the spring semester.
“I don’t think single-gender classes work as kids get older, but when they are younger, it is a great thing,” said Mike Lail, whose daughter, Mackenzie, is in Ball’s third-grade class.
The teachers have focused on different activities or books that are more likely to appeal to each gender. Wilemon’s boys may clap as they retrieve their books or take breaks for pushups. Ball’s girls recently made Christmas ornaments and wrote about the procedure.
Rousseau said her son is excited every day when he gets home from school.
“Every parent wants that for their child,” she said. “He has not said one negative thing about the class. For a child, that is amazing to me.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.