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But will it work?

Local educators divided over divided classes

Local educators divided over divided classes

November 01, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Many Tri-State educators describe puberty as a sea of emotions that can bring a tidal wave of distractions to a middle-school classroom at any given time. But they have mixed viewpoints on whether same-sex classes will solve the problem and improve academic performance.

In Charleston, W. Va., school administrators, teachers and local officials supported Stonewall Jackson Middle School's decision to separate for some classes boys and girls in grades six through eight. The goal there is to improve test scores and reduce flirting, fights and other behavioral problems.

"I think it's an interesting concept worth exploring," said Pat Brockway-Votel, an assistant principal at Martinsburg South Middle School in Berkeley County, W. Va.

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She said the situation at Stonewall Jackson Middle School is a perfect example of how school administrators and teachers are uniting to embrace new ideas to overcome the challenges of teaching a generation of children who grew up watching music videos on television.

"They (middle-school students) are very interested in the social part of their world," Brockway-Votel said.

In Franklin County, Pa., Chambersburg Area Middle School principal Timothy Bowers said same-sex classes are just one of several methods used by educators to help middle-school students stay focused during class.

Bowers said he hesitates to endorse same-sex classrooms for any age group. At his school he encourages his staff to use a variety of teaching methods to keep middle-school students focused on academics.

"What works with one student population may not work with another student population. The key is knowing your student population and coming up with strategies that work for that group," he said.

And while some educators and other groups are divided over the issue, Bowers said No Child Left Behind policies have forced educators to think "out of the box" when it comes to teaching different student populations.

In Washington County, E. Russell Hicks Middle School principal Roger Stenersen said he believes same-sex classrooms aren't the only reason to expect increases in student test scores at Stonewall Jackson Middle School.

"Improvements also represent the hallmark of strong school leadership," he said.

Stenersen, who attended an all-boys school as a youth, believes same-sex classes can reduce peer pressure on students who are naturally attracted to one another.

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