- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky.- Without a snicker or even a whisper, the eighth-grade boys listened as each classmate stood and pledged to study hard and earn high marks to get ready for high school.
Social studies teacher Wilma K. Spencer smiled. On the first day of single-sex classrooms at Southern Leadership Academy, her students had abandoned the wisecracks, the note passing, the fighting, the flirting and the shyness and were ready to learn.
"I think sometimes with the two genders together, they are so influenced by each other," she said. "They want to impress each other."
The public middle school, plagued by low test scores and unruliness, is near the forefront of an initiative that could catch hold as the U.S. Department of Education drafts new Title IX regulations making it easier for schools to create sex-specific classes.
From the day's first bell to the last, Southern's 820 boys and girls are cloistered in separate classrooms. Only chorus and band remain coed.
Class times are staggered to avoid boys and girls mingling in the hallways. They may eat lunch at the same time, but they aren't allowed to sit at the same tables.
Some students say the change reduces distractions and eases pressures.
"We won't be embarrassed to stand up in front of the class and do a report," said seventh-grader Ebonee Herd. "And we don't have to look all pretty-pretty."
Nearly 65 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at the school, tucked into a South Louisville lower income neighborhood near the famed Churchill Downs horse track.
The school has struggled with low test scores and high suspension rates for several years. "We felt we needed to think out of the box and take a risk and do something dramatically different that was substantive," Principal Anita Jones said.
The faculty recommended switching to single-sex classrooms, and the plan was approved by the school's local council: Miss Jones, three teachers and two parents.
Southern followed the lead of Paducah Middle School, about 225 miles west of Louisville, which set up some single-sex classes in the middle of the last school year.
Boys and girls attend separate classes in sixth grade but are brought together gradually as they prepare for high school.
Assistant Principal Richard Dowdy said that during the first three days of the last school year, when all classrooms remained mixed, 25 students were sent to the office for misconduct. This year, the number dipped to four.
More than a dozen public schools nationwide have same-sex-only classrooms or are exclusively boys or girls schools, said Dr. Leonard Sax, a psychologist and physician who heads the Maryland-based National Association for Single Sex Public Education. An additional 40 to 50 schools offer single-sex classes but don't require them, he said.
Dr. Sax predicts the numbers will grow once the government removes a legal cloud over schools with single-sex classrooms.
The Title IX law prohibits public schools from discriminating on the basis of sex, and schools with single-sex classrooms have tried to avoid conflicts with the law by offering boys and girls essentially equal education.

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