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Learning apart - Boys to the left, girls to the right

April 18, 2006|by KYLE LEFLER

A classic prep-school idea has recently begun to saturate public school: single-gender classes.

A pilot program at Boonsboro High School targets the academic top 10 percent of boys and girls in ninth and 10th grades, creating single-gender math, English and science classes.

While recent standardized test scores have increased dramatically for some students, higher-scoring students in the same period did not show the same rate of improvement over their previous scores. The program was started to accelerate growth and prepare students in the top 10 percent of these two grades for future, advanced-placement classes and to boost their standardized test scores.

The new program, called the Academy, focuses on the differences between academically talented boys and girls in an effort to try to help them reach their full potential.

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April Crowl, a Boonsboro teacher who specializes in student testing, oversees the Academy. She says that when the idea came about to start a program like this, BHS faculty began to research which learning tools were effective in increasing student success.

"There is some great research that shows that gender-specific classes, homogeneous grouping, (teaching) Latin, small class size ... and (higher standards) all contribute to increased success," says Crowl. The faculty created the Academy based on this research.

Pangborn Elementary School also has started a couple of single-gender classes.

Boonsboro's Academy is in its second semester and, according to BHS Principal Martin Green, is doing quite well.

"I have been very impressed by both our freshman and sophomore Academies," he wrote in an e-mail, "These young men and women have clearly shown both the aptitude and the attitude to take advantage of the educational opportunities intended at the inception of these classes."

Crowl is equally impressed, comparing the 10th-grade girls academy to "the Julia Roberts movie 'Mona Lisa Smile.'"

"The biggest objection the (freshman) girls have is not having the physical presence of boys in the classroom," says Crowl, "It is a social issue, not an academic one."

It's an adjustment for the freshmen.

As a student with the Academy, I can speak from firsthand experience. I have had a great experience with the Academy. I have learned a lot about people that I normally wouldn't talk to too much. The girls in my class have fun together, sharing personal experiences and advice while participating in group discussions. We laugh at ourselves when we mess up and encourage each other to do our best.

At first, I thought that I would miss the boys in class, but I have gotten used to their absence.

Although not all the students are as fond of the Academy, the teachers seem to enjoy it.

"I do enjoy teaching the girls' Academy," says English teacher Kristin Taylor. She says that she has not noticed a marked improvement in the students' grades, but she has noticed a sisterly relationship that has blossomed from these classes.

"The bond that these girls have with one another provides a certain comfort level in sharing and participating in class," Taylor says.

Some students have complaints about the Academy concept. Tenth-grader Elizabeth Plum's response to the program is not a positive one.

"It's pointless, because life is not usually separated by gender," she says. "So it's not helping anything."

Crowl acknowledges that the Academy concept is not for all students.

"It is a voluntary program to advance rigor (for) our advanced students and allow for an academic opportunity," she says. "Any student who feels that they are misplaced in the Academy should exercise their option of getting out."

Green reiterates that the Academy is based on thorough research.

The ideas behind the gender-separate academies "are not new and are based upon sound educational theory and practice," he says via e-mail.

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