Separate, but equal

Schools offer piot programs targeting classes that are gender-segregated

Schools offer piot programs targeting classes that are gender-segregated

October 03, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

In Rebecca Brown's English class, a "sapphire blue" car - not Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" - fuels sophomore students' imaginations.

Students eager to help describe an imaginary vehicle during a lesson on lively writing split on the car's make and model - some said it was a "Ford Taurus station wagon" and others threw their support behind a "Lamborghini Diablo."

All of the students in Brown's 10th-grade honors writing class are boys.

Some Washington County Public Schools, including Boonsboro High School, where Brown teaches, this year are offering a handful of gender-segregated classes. Though it is too early to tell whether the pilot project will bolster test scores, school system officials said they are impressed with students' engagement and apparent perceptions of comfort in the classes.


"I've gotten some very interesting, creative things from these guys, which I chalk up (to) this (class) being all boys," Brown said after one session of class on a recent Wednesday afternoon.

With girls in the room, Brown said boys typically are inhibited in what they say and afraid to express any emotion. This year, she said she doesn't mind a little rowdiness for what she gets in return - honest discussion.

"I think you want to read different types of literature with the boys and play to their strengths - boys tend to be stronger with information-type literature and they enjoy it more than one of the classics," said Peggy Pugh, school system supervisor of English language arts. Pugh said gender-divided classes could benefit boys, who typically are more active, competitive learners than girls.

At Greencastle-Antrim High School, which last year piloted a class called "Women in Science," science teacher Tara Clopper said many of her best students are girls. Even so, she said the gap between the numbers of boys and girls pursuing science tends to widen as students matriculate to more advanced classes and girls get left behind.

This year, five girls in "Women in Science II" will continue their studies of female scientists and pilot science outreach workshops for younger girls, Clopper said.

Clopper acknowledged she is a little disappointed that no boys signed up for any of the "Women in Science" classes, which require a heavy amount of reading and independent study.

"Well, first of all, they say, 'We don't like to read,' and second of all, they say, 'We wouldn't want to have Women in Science' on our transcripts,'" Clopper said with a laugh.

No other school systems in the Tri-State area reported having classes divided by gender, as Washington County does.

Officials at Boonsboro High and Pangborn Elementary schools, which are two of the Washington County schools with single-gender classes, said the option was not a hard sell for parents, who could have requested their children be enrolled with both boys and girls.

Brown said she believes both she and her students have benefited from the arrangement.

"It opens up doors to us, the kids and the teachers," she said.

Boys can be more outspoken in classes without girls, who sometimes "leap at them" for saying anything they perceive as mean or stereotypical, said David Lehman, a student in Brown's class.

"We're not so much worried about trying to impress people," David said.

Fifteen-year-old Brennan Baylor said he would welcome the opportunity to take more boys-only classes.

"Things seem to advance a lot faster in the curriculum," Brennan said after peer-editing a classmate's paper in Brown's class. "I guess with just one gender, we're more apt to ask a question that would have embarrassed us beforehand."

The classes this year are part of a new academy for high-achieving freshmen and sophomores, and students have some mixed-gender classes in their schedule, Boonsboro High School Principal Martin Green said.

At Pangborn Elementary School, which has one all-girls class and one all-boys class for fifth-grade math and language arts, Jill Waters said she has never been more aware of the influence of gender on how children learn. Her girls are eager to please and work well in groups, she said.

"I've seen that where we excel in the language arts areas, we do extra work in the math areas," Waters said shortly after almost all of the girls in the class volunteered to read exaggerations they had written as part of a lesson on tall tales.

According to Pugh, the school system plans to monitor the test data from students in the single-gender classes. It has no formal plans to expand the arrangements, Pugh said.

"I think people are just trying to do whatever it takes to get the kids prepared," Pugh said.

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