Williston school district to offer single-gender classrooms next fall

Segregation - based on sex, not race - might appear in two Williston schools within the next school year.

If enough student-participants materialize, the Williston school board has already approved a pilot program for single-gender classrooms in the fourth and seventh grades.

The school board unanimous approval came during its March 17 monthly meeting.

"We have been talking about it and researching it for about two years," said Superintendent Alexia Clamp.

The single-gender pilot program would be done to improve academic performance in these grades, she said.

"Over the years, we have noticed that these are the grades where our kids have been struggling academically," Clamp said.

These grades are also the ones that typically children exhibit the most behavioral problems because of the transitions in their mental or physical growth at these times in their lives, she said.

Williston school district has three classes of seventh graders and four classes of fourth graders.

What the program will allow is dividing one class from each grade into boys only and girls only classes.

The single-gender classroom is being offered as an option that the parents of rising fourth and seventh graders could choose. The district would need about 20 students in each single-gender classroom for the program to launch in the 2009-10 school year, Clamp said.

"They (parents) may want their children in a mixed gender class," she said. "You can't just come in and do it wholesale."

"Because we are so small (a district), we knew we would have to offer it as a choice," Clamp said.

If there are more than 20 students available for each same-sex classroom, then the slots for it will be chosen by lottery. If the number of participants is close to 20 students, the district would likely continue with its plans for the segregated classes, she said.

The Williston school district has never attempted single-gender classrooms before, however, it involves more than separating the sexes, she said.

"There is special training for teachers in single-gender classes. Some teaching strategies work better for boys, some girls. The state will require teachers to change the way they teach," Clamp said.

Boys tend to learn better through ‘hands-on,' active exercises while girls are more organized in their approach to learning and ‘talk-through' their learning process, Clamp said.

Of course, the district is willing to try single-gender classes to boost academic performance because it takes away the distraction of the opposite sex.

"At the middle school, they (students) will show off for the opposite sex," Clamp said of hormone-inspired behavior problems.

Also, students may not respond to teachers or participate in class as much if they think it will make them appear less popular to the opposite sex, she said.

If single-gender classes occur next school year, participating fourth and seventh graders would still have some coed activities during the school day like lunch, gym, computer and library classes, Clamp said.

The district will have a meeting March 30 for parents interested in putting their rising fourth and seventh graders into a single-gender class at Kelly Edwards Elementary School. Parents can call the district office at (803) 266-7878 for details.