A.R. Rucker testing single-gender option for first time

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By Jesef Williams

You can see a sharp contrast between Shree Crawford and Cassie Thurman's sixth-grade science classes at A.R. Rucker Middle School.

In Crawford's class, the students sit quietly and work on assignments at their desk, while Thurman has her students moving around the room and talking aloud.

It's the same school. The same grade. The same class and the same curriculum. So you may ask: Why are the classes so different?

The answer lies in the gender.

A.R. Rucker Middle is trying single-gender classroom arrangements this year for the first time. The option is available for the sixth grade, and about 55 percent of those students participate. A.R. Rucker is the only school in the Lancaster County School District to offer single-gender classes.

The decision to offer single-gender classes is based on data suggesting that boys and girls learn differently. Teachers adjust lessons and use strategies to cater to the different learning styles. Proponents believe this is a way to increase student achievement.

Crawford, who teaches two all-girl classes and two mixed classes, said there's more student participation in her all-girl classes. Those students also cheer each other on a lot more.

"But with the mixed group, you have kids who won't raise their hands at all," she said.

Crawford gives her students some activities that involve movement, but a lot of the all-girl assignments are done sitting down, with the desks in pairs face-to-face. Studies suggest that girls prefer face-to-face interaction much more than their male counterparts.

As a result, desks are placed side-by-side in the all-boys classes.

In Thurman's class, the boys worked on the same science project as the girls across the hall, but with a lot more movement and chatter. Boys tend to perform well when given the chance to do assignments outside their desks, Principal Phillip Mickles said. Competition among boys is used too.

The boys' take

A.R. Rucker Middle sixth-grader Donovan Perrington said he's enjoying single-gender classes, even though he expected to be in mixed classes before the year started.

He said he sees a difference single-gender classes and mixed classes. Teachers in mixed classes seem to favor the girls and that made him uncomfortable at times, he said.

"I'm fine with it," Perrington said about single-gender classes. "It puts less stress on me."

His classmate, Michael Lindsay, likes single-gender because of the increased number of hands-on activities he gets to do. He said he's gotten all A's so far this year.

"Without the girls distracting us, we can learn a lot better," Lindsay said.

The girls' take

Rachel Campbell said her grades have also improved since being in single-gender classes.

She didn't like boys distracting her and laughed when she tried to answer question aloud.

That often deterred her from participating.

"I didn't want to go to another class and embarrass myself," Campbell said.

Dezira'i Brace has a mixed view on single-gender classes.

"Sometimes it can be good, sometimes bad," she said.

She said drama sometimes surfaces when all girls are in one class. There are conflicts are about petty issues, such as the telling of secrets and the use of someone else's marker.

Except that, Braces is postive about the single-gender experience.

Success and what's next?

Mickles said there's been more participation and fewer discipline issues from the single-gender groups compared to the students in mixed classes. He believes a lot of that can be attributed to the students not trying to impress the opposite sex.

Some of the school's seventh-grade teachers have attended conferences and started training to be able to teach single-gender classes next year.

District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore is in favor of other schools in the district adopting single-gender arrangements, though he wants personnel at each school to make the decision.

"I want them to see if it's right for them," Moore said.

He believes you won't be able to gauge the effectiveness of single-gender here until it's been in place for a few years, which will allow broader comparisons.

There's no word yet if any other school in the district will offer the choice next year.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at 283-1152