Newark Elementary tries out gender-based classrooms

NEWARK, AR (KAIT) – A local school is trying to keep its young students focused on their academics and not each other.

This school year, the Newark Elementary School decided to split up its fifth and sixth grade students into boy-girl classes.

The school took on this experiment after studying how differently boys and girls learn.

Principal Kathy Magness hopes these single-sex classrooms will help improve overall academic performance, and so far she says it seems to be working for students like Kaiden Olmedo.

Olmedo began sixth grade in an all-girl classroom. She initially worried it would not be any fun without the boys, but she has already erased that concern just four weeks into the new school year.

"The boys haven't gotten on anybody's nerves," Olmedo said. "It's been more quiet around the classroom, and the girls are more organized so that's better."

Olmedo is one of 83 fifth and sixth graders now divided into the single-sex classrooms, and she says it has put less pressure on the girls.

"We're able to talk about things that we were not able with the boys in the classroom," she said, "and it's just like they (the girls) can talk about personal stuff now with the teachers."

"This is an experimental year," Magness added. "So far, we've had a lot of success."

Magness says she ran with the idea after conducting extensive research on the subject of single-sex classrooms.

Much of the research centered upon teachers adopting  different approaches to instruct boys and girls. The principal says author Michael Gurian and his book, "Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents," provided a successful model to work from.

" They (the teachers) are teaching the same subject matter," Magness said, "but it's just the approach that is different.

"If they have a group of boys in that time or the group of girls in there," she added, "they can just use different strategies in their teaching approach."

Math teacher Shelley Wilson says she now allows the girls to take more time to explain and show their work, while the boys need to be more active to maintain focus.

"The girl classes are very calm and very organized," Wilson said, "and the boy classes – we have to make those accommodations for them and let them stand, let them jog in place for a minute, let them expend some nervous energy."

Wilson recommends that other schools look into this idea, as her school hopes it translates to improved test scores as research has shown.

"Our hope is that we continue to have positive input from the parents, from the students," Magness said, "and that we continue this this year and next year, and if it works very well, I hope to move it down even a grade level to our fourth grade students."

Magness says feedback overall has been overwhelmingly positive, and she hopes to get more opinions Tuesday night at the first parent-teacher conferences of the new school year.

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