- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Many of the two dozen boys in Randy Thompson's all-boys class can't seem to hold in their answers when he gives them a math problem.
When "Mr. T" throws the "multiplication question ball," the catcher has seconds to throw it back with an answer.
Down the hall, Judith Thomson's all-girl, fifth-grade class the self-named You Go Girls write poetry during their creative-writing time with "Mrs. T."
On some special Fridays, for lunch in the classroom, they test their fine-dining skills, sipping sparkling water from wine glasses.
Campus School is a Memphis public school on the grounds of the University of Memphis. It is operated by the College of Education as a laboratory for teaching grades one through six.
This year, the school is experimenting with two single-sex classes.
Last year, parents of fourth-graders got to decide whether to enroll their children in the single-sex classes this year. Forty-nine of 56 said yes. The seven who stayed in the coed classes are in a combined class of fourth- and fifth-graders.
So far, teachers, parents and even students generally like what they see.
School officials say they have fewer discipline problems and classroom distractions and promising academic results. In a society in which girls' math and science grades traditionally drop beginning in the fifth grade, the Campus School girls are holding their own.
Gwen Hewitt credits the single-sex class for helping her daughter, Tori Roseman, bring up her grades. "The positive synergy can't be equaled," she said. "It offers the girls an opportunity to give each other support. They're more directed and more focused."
Another mother agreed. "Girls who were shy, meek and mild are beginning to take their positions as school leaders," said Edith Gholson, whose daughter Meg is in the class. "They don't defer to the boys."
Both classes share recess time, and 20 of the boys and girls come together for gifted classes weekly. Each week, the girls switch classes with the boys for two hours of science with Mr. T, and the boys go to Mrs. T for creative writing and composition.
Parent Tonya Covington is still wrestling with whether she likes single-sex classes for her daughter, Carmell Harris.
"They can focus on 'girlie' issues like trying to groom them to be nice ladies in waiting," she said. "On the other hand, they tend to bicker with each other."
While physical-education instructor Diane Coleman finds it easier to teach boys-only and girls-only classes, she said, "I think they've missed out on developing some social skills in how to get along with each other and how to deal with sportsmanship."
For instance, students in the coed class overcome the horror of holding hands with the opposite sex when they learn folk dancing. "We don't even call it holding hands," said Miss Coleman. "We call it joining hands. Typically, the boys didn't want to touch the girls' hands."
Now in her 28th year of teaching, Mrs. T, 63, likes the challenge of teaching all girls. In a mixed class, she said, research has shown teachers generally tend to call on boys more than girls.
"Girls were programmed to be more passive and wait their turn," she said. "Here, they are not waiting their turn for a boy. They like not having boys in here because boys rushed them. They didn't want to be pressed into competition with boys."
Ali Beth Jenkins said she likes being in a class of girls. She doesn't miss the snickers from boys if she gives a wrong answer or boys yelling out answers while the girls raise their hands.
"We can talk about stuff we wouldn't talk about in front of boys, like periods, stuff like that," said Tiara Cash.
For the vast majority of the boys, Mr. T is their first experience with a male teacher. It has prompted what he calls "teachable moments" as the boys enter puberty.
"We can talk man-to-man with the teacher," said Michael Hankins, 10. "We couldn't do that with a mixed class."
Michael admits the boys have a tendency to shout out their answers. "We can't really hold the answers in," he said.
In Mr. T's class, four desks are pushed together to form a square. Someone who is strong in math may sit next to someone who isn't. A boy who loves science may be next to one who hates it. With all boys in the room, Max Sides said, "We, like, cooperate more."
Without girls in the room, "there's nobody to pick on. It's easier to get along with each other," said Nicholas Jackson, 10. "Nobody is arguing with each other."

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