Gulfport school puts single-sex classrooms to the test

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Gulfport school is experimenting with a different program this year: Single-sex classrooms. Gaston Point Elementary is the only school in the Gulfport School District right now to separate the boys and girls. The change only affects classes for first and fifth graders.

The principal decided to put the boys and girls in separate classrooms to test the program. She started with the first grade, because there are enough teachers to handle the split-up classes, and the fifth grade, because the class size is small. The change came after she studied last year's data and became concerned about the high percentage of boys who were struggling academically.

"In some cases they were failing. Some cases they weren't doing as well as I would have liked them to have done, especially knowing them and talking to them one-on-one. I was looking at that and saying, 'You can do better than this,'" said Dr. Tracy Jackson, Gaston Point Elementary School Principal.

Jackson said she also noticed that the boys had more disciplinary problems.

"Typically the fourth and fifth grade, the hormones start getting out of control, and by having them separated like that, they have time to focus more on their academics and not worry about who likes who or whatever," said Jackson.

Kimberly Robins teaches the boys math and science in the morning, then she teaches the girls the same lessons in the afternoon. She crafts her curriculum to fit their learning styles.

"With the boys, I put in a lot of sports. We play basketball. I have a little basketball goal. They earn points and they can earn a ball," said Robins. "It's been great! I love teaching the boys. They're a little bit more hands-on and they're energetic."

"Our teacher, when she tells us to be quiet and we do it and we get most of everything done," said fifth grader Ajaveon Hatten.

When asked if he misses being in a class with girls, he shook his head.

Dr. Jackson said she has noticed less distractions in class, more motivation, and better grades among the boys.  She will evaluate their test scores and behavior every nine weeks to determine whether to continue the program next year.

"You don't want to keep doing something over and over again if it's not working. So we were trying something different to see if it would improve their academic achievement because ultimately, that's what we're trying to do," said Jackson.

"I think they focus a little bit more. They don't have to worry about being a certain way for the girls in the classroom. It's just them. They can be guys. They can talk about guy things. It's been a great experience," said Robins.

This is not the first time that a Gulfport school has tested single-sex classrooms. In 2004, Bayou View and Central Middle Schools separated the sixth grade boys and girls, but the program ended a few years later.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.