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Pueblo school tries gender-separated classes

John Norton
AP Photo/Pueblo Chieftain, John JaquesBranden Mondragon, left, and Michael Escobedo sit in the front in an all-boys sixth grade reading class at Roncalli Middle School, in Pueblo.
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PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) – There was a time when all-boy classes were the rule at what’s now Roncalli Middle School – and all-girl classes were across town at Seton.Of course, that was when Roncalli was the all-boys Pueblo Catholic High School.This year, 30 of Roncalli’s boys are on their own again, and so are 30 girls, in a pilot project to test an increasingly popular theory that boys and girls can learn better when they’re not in a mixed class.It’s a movement pushed strongly by the Gurian Institute in Colorado Springs, founded seven years ago by social philosopher and family therapist Michael Gurian. The idea is that girls and boys have different ways of learning and interacting with each other and it’s more efficient to teach them separately.People Magazine is doing a feature on the institute and sent a reporter to Roncalli recently.Roncalli counselor Mike Horton said the program is the only middle-school example of gender-segregated classes in Colorado.The two groups of sixth-graders are taking their five core classes in reading, language arts, social studies, science and math together. Their two elective class periods are still coed.

‘Model of cooperation’Lisa Aragon, stepping out of her first-period classroom of girls working on language arts, is a firm believer.”I even signed up my daughter for this,” she said.Aragon said it was easier to give students free rein in the all-girl class, “but it’s still a controllable atmosphere.”She said that she’s noticed a bonding among the students in both groups. “They really look out for each other.”The next hour, she’ll get a group of 30 boys and the difference is noticeable, as is the difference from coed classes.While Aragon was teaching the girls, the boys’ group was in Terri Pacheco’s reading class. Pacheco agreed there was a difference in teaching an all-boy class from a coed one, adding that the all-boy session she taught was more rambunctious than the all-girl group.In a typical class, she said, students are more reluctant to work together. The all-girl class is a model of cooperation and in the all-boys class, youngsters who might not normally participate “come out of their shell.”Those are some of the expected results, say proponents of single-sex classes. They contend that boys and girls learn differently and need to be taught with different methods.

Some results are inHorton attended a Gurian Institute talk last January and in June started to incorporate some of those ideas when he was developing this year’s programs. He started calling parents of incoming sixth-graders to see if they’d be willing to have their children participate.”The kids were almost unanimously against it,” he said, but many of the parents were fascinated. The only major drawback was trying to work around schedules that included band classes.Once he’d made a few calls, Horton added, parents started calling each other and momentum built quickly.He said that the students in the program have already shown improved performance based on first-quarter grades and that he hopes to have stronger data later next year.Coincidentally, he said, the district’s assessment department has started giving its TerraNova tests at the beginning of the school year and will give another set in May so he should be able to judge how well the students in the groups have done.The girls who signed up were already rated as high achievers, he said, and are already the top group of sixth-graders.The boys came with more varied academic backgrounds but the ones in the boy-only group are ranked second among the school’s sixth-graders successes already.



Horton participated with 38 other educators from around the state in a three-day training program last summer conducted by Kathy Stevens, the Gurian Institute’s director. Stevens came to Roncalli and conducted a daylong session, half of it with the entire faculty and half with the five teachers who were going to take on the all-boy and all-girl groups.Horton said he’d like to expand the program next year but would have to get more funds from the district for training in order to do it properly.On the Net:Michael Gurian Educational Institute: http://www.gurianinstitute.comThis story first appeared in the Pueblo Chieftain.Vail, Colorado


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