Local teachers, parents and students agree with a recent survey that finds the state's single-gender classroom project is a win-win-win effort.
Teachers and parents say students in these classes have shown a significant improvement in academic achievement, attitude, motivation, behavior, social skills and self-confidence after one year in the classroom. The kids also offer positive feedback about the classes.
Dave Reed teaches math and science to fourth-grade single-gender classes at Edisto Elementary School in Orangeburg Consolidated District Four. He says the program gives the teacher the opportunity to meet students' emotional and social needs as well as their academic needs.
"I think it builds a better person at the end of the school year," Reed said.
The program is successful because students are not distracted by the need to impress members of the opposite sex and because they feel free to express themselves - more able to ask questions, both academic and on social and emotional issues, Reed said.
"I can dig in and get into their lives more. I feel I can provide more of a moral service to them - not on a counseling level, but to listen and advise," he said.
The separate classes also have a definite effect on stereotyping, Reed said.
Boys are "supposed" to do better in math and science while girls are "supposed" to do better in English language arts, but in the single-gender classes, the students don't even realize these stereotypes, he said.
Principal Belinda Johnson reports that 90 percent of the boys in last year's single-gender classes improved in ELA and 78 percent improved in writing skills.
All these things help increase students' self-confidence, according to Reed, who says he's seen a significant improvement in social and emotional development in his students.
The single-gender classes have been a plus for students at Edisto Elementary, not just academically, but also in behavior, according to Dr. Shirlan Jenkins, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in OCSD 4.
She noted that the class' discipline referrals dropped from 18 percent to 12 percent of male students from one year to the next.
Camry Albert and Chandler Moorer are fifth-graders at Edisto. Camry says he likes the class because he can ask questions that he might be embarrassed to ask in front of girls. He also says he can concentrate better in the single-gender class because girls talk too much and distract him.
Chandler says the class is "fun because we've got lots of things in common as boys. We get along better because we like the same things."
Chandler's mother, Jaime Moorer, says she likes the single-gender class because the teacher can incorporate things into the lessons that boys are specifically interested in.
She said she feels the classes aid the students in social development. They're required to dress up every Wednesday. When they're with the girls at lunch, etc., they're expected to open doors for them and show good manners in other ways, she said.
Another strength of the single-gender class is that the kids seem to work better as a team, Moorer said.
"The class as a whole gets along great ... with it being all boy, they ‘click' together," she said.
Additionally, Moorer says Chandler concentrates more on his work than on little girls.
"I would rather him concentrate on school than worrying about ‘does she like me,'" Moorer said.
Brookdale Elementary School in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five also offers single-gender classes. R. Anwar Hodges teaches fourth-grade ELA and social studies and Latasha Little-Robinson teaches math and science to fifth graders.
Hodges noted that the boys, who were in a single-gender class last year, showed a tremendous jump of more than 25 points on the ELA section of the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, with 91 percent of the class passing.
But they also advanced in social development, Hodges said.
"I see the social development and them acting as ladies and gentlemen - I see that growth even more than the test scores," he said.
Without girls in the class- room, the boys learned to speak up and become more involved in schoolwork, Hodges said.
"The ones that are normally quiet and shy - totally non-verbal - would stand up and speak in front of the class by the end of the year," he said.
Little-Robinson said that during their first year in a single-gender class, her students showed an improvement of more than 25 percent on the PASS test and 70 percent passed the test.
Another area where students showed improvement was in learning to work as teams, according to Little-Robinson.
"I set the goal, and everything is about attaining that goal," she said. "You teach them how to work as a team, give them time together ... put the rules and procedures into place, and they learn to cooperate."
Hodges and Little-Robinson said they've seen no real disadvantages to the single-gender classes. The boys and the girls still get some time to socialize together, and the students' social skills are better in a mixed group than they were before they became part of the single-gender classes.
Reed, Hodges and Little-Robinson have taken workshops on teaching single-gender classes with David Chadwell, the single-gender education coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Education.
Despite the apparent success of single-gender classes and their popularity with teachers, parents and students, the number of schools offering the option has dropped from 214 in 2008 to 125 in 2010.
This is a result of the state's severe budget cuts, says Jim Rex, state superintendent of education.
"Single-gender classes are basically an add-on option because federal law requires every school to offer co-ed classes," Rex said. "When a school loses teaching positions to budget cuts, it can lose the scheduling flexibility to offer add-ons."
Greg Carson, spokesperson for OCSD 5, says the district plans to continue the single-gender classes next year.
"It's our chance to touch these children in a lot of different areas, to complete our task of educating them and molding them into good citizens and great lifelong learners," he said.
The district also plans to look into the possibility of adding more classes when the budget is developed next year, Carson said.
Jenkins said single-gender classes have been a plus for students at Edisto Elementary and the district hopes to maintain its present classes. Not all students fit neatly into the regular mixed classes; some need different environments to succeed, she said.
The district hopes to maintain the classes it has but does not plan to add new ones due to looming budget cuts, Jenkins said.
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