Patience Peterson is the first to admit that she didn’t really want to be in a class with just girls for part of the school day.
“But then, I started getting used to it, and I liked it way better, because I feel more comfortable talking to my friends. I raise my hand more. I would want to do it again,” she said.
She is among the sixth-grade students at Waupaca Middle School participating in a new program this school year that has some girls and boys in single-gender classes for math, science and social studies.
Close to 60 students – 31 girls and 26 boys – are participating.
The idea to offer this option to sixth-grade parents was the result of an in-service program several years ago that focused on gender issues, specifically how boys and girls have different learning styles.
“We talked about it and thought it would be neat,” said Deb Whitmore, who teaches sixth-grade social studies, reading and English. “It came up at another in-service. Mr. (Wayne) Verdon, who was the principal at the time, said, ‘If anyone is interested in it, come and see me.’ So, we talked about it again – about would we really be interested in doing it.”
Sixth-grade teachers Rene Jungers and Dave Peterson joined in on the discussion.
They wanted more information and training.
Jungers, who teaches math, reading and English, visited a Racine school that was offering single-gender classes at the high school level.
Their data showed how both the boys and girls did better in this type of class and that it also helped with attendance.
Peterson teaches science, English and reading, and he said that offering the single-gender classes was dependent on staff interest and scheduling.
The students in the single-gender classes may have the best of both worlds.
Part of the day, they are with their peers only, while the other part of the school day, they are in coed classes.
Students in the single-gender classes say they like it.
Kourtney Plamann has two brothers and no sisters, and asked her parents to let her be in the single-gender class.
“I like it,” she said. “The boys are more distracting.”
Plamann thinks she participates more in class, because she feels more confident speaking in front of girls.
Those comments were echoed by both girls and boys.
Logan Olmeda said it was also his idea to be in a boys-only class for part of the school day.
“I thought it would make it easier to understand, because I would have the same gender of people around me,” he said.
Olmeda also said he receives more help from his classmates who are in the single-gender class with him. “In mixed class, girls will study with other girls,” he said.
His classmate Joseph Blackwell also wanted to be in the class and likes it. He said he participates in class, regardless of whether there are girls in his class.
Several of the students in the single-gender classes said there are fewer distractions.
“You don’t have to try to impress the girls,” said Ryan Johnson. “When there are girls in class, you joke around to get their attention.”
Grace Koch said boys can be distracting.
“With the guys, if you get something wrong, they laugh,” she said. “Guys will distract you, and math, science and social studies are harder classes.”
Gloria Kovach explained another reason why the girls are sometimes more hesitant to participate in class when the boys are also in it. “If you get something wrong, and you like a guy, you feel embarrassed,” she said.
The parent survey that took place about halfway into the school year shows that many parents see the program as a success.
Parents said their children concentrate and learn better in single-gender classes. Several parents of both boys and girls commented on the fact that their children were more apt to participate in class because they were not afraid of having a wrong answer or asking for help.
Paul Piencikowski and his wife, Pamela, are the parents of four children. Their son, Seth, is in the single-gender class.
“Boys and girls learn differently, especially at middle school age. So many things are changing. They’re trying to figure out where they fit in,” he said.
The three teachers participating in the program talked about how the learning styles of boys and girls differ.
“In the boys class, they will compete more. With boys, they won’t throw an unsure answer in front of the girls but they will with the boys,” Peterson said.
Jungers sees more participation taking place in both the boys and the girls classes in comparison to the coed classes.
She also said that in the single-gender classes, it is easier to talk about appropriate behavior.
“There are some topics,” Peterson said, “that we expand in the gender-only and others in the coed.”
He sees the girls in the program are becoming good role models. “We’re using different strategies, but they all learn the same things,” he said.
This option is again being offered next year in sixth grade.
Peterson said middle school is the ideal time to offer gender-specific classes. “I wouldn’t recommend it earlier,” he said.
The boys and girls in these classes are comfortable approaching all three of the teachers.
Piencikowski, who is a substitute teacher, said girls have a longer attention span, while boys need changes.
He said Seth was open to the idea of being in a single-gender class part of the day and that he is doing well in all his classes.
“Honestly, I’d like to see them (the school district) carry it through,” he said.