- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

The story of a man who more than two decades ago became the first black federal judge in Alabama recently created quite a discussion among some students at Lucy E. Moten Elementary School.
Administrators said that is often the situation since the Anacostia school switched to all-boys and all-girls classes. They say the change also improved grades and test scores.
After reading the story about U.W. Clemon, who became the state's first black federal judge in 1980, the group of sixth-grade boys were eager to discuss injustice, discipline and the value of education.
"What have we learned so far?" teacher Don Parker asked.
A flurry of hands flew into the air.
"Mr. Hart, talk to me," said Mr. Parker, 31, as he pointed to a boy eager to share his thoughts.
"There are times when you might be denied opportunities, but you must work through it," the student said. "Discipline breeds success."
"Very good," Mr. Parker said.
Everyone gets an opportunity to speak in Mr. Parker's classroom, and the boys indeed seem as concerned about showing off their intellects as they would showing off for female classmates.
Principal George Smitherman tried the new approach last year separating his fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders into single-sex classes to improve academic performances.
He says the results exceeded his expectations: The discipline problems are gone and standardized test scores increased by 50 percent in reading and by 80 percent in math, compared with last year.
"Our kids worked hard all day, every day," the 55-year-old Mr. Smitherman said. "Everything centers on math and reading." He also said shortening the lunch hour to focus on academics helped improve test scores."
Mr. Smitherman said he had good success five years ago when he experimented with a male teacher leading an all-boys classroom.
"They became highly disciplined, performed academically and became high achievers," he said. "I was astonished by how well they responded to structure, a male teacher and their colleagues. I saw them helping each other. Normally, boys are competitive, but I saw a family. That was my first clue that it works."
Mr. Smitherman said research also showed girls performed better in single-sex classrooms, but his concerns centered on the boys.
Not anymore.
"I've seen a tremendous improvement," he said with a smile.
Mr. Parker agrees. He joined the staff at Moten two years ago after graduating from the University of the District of Columbia.
"It eliminates a lot of distractions and a lot of the gender problems between males and females," he said. "But, as an educator, it allows me to provide a competitive educational setting. These guys all want to be heroes. And with all boys, there's a lot of testosterone. It's OK to want to be the best, but it has to be channeled.
"I explain to them that they must build a solid educational foundation. It's more important to be the strongest academically, as opposed to being the strongest athletically. I don't have a class of angels, but they are willing to ask questions."
Mr. Parker said all-boys classes also help with candid discussions about self-respect and how to behave toward women.
Tarik Walker, a fourth-grader, just enjoys the camaraderie of the all-male environment.
"When I finish doing my work, I raise my hand and ask if anyone in class needs help," he said. "We never tease or make fun of one another."
The girls also seem to like the setup especially no more chatter about Spider-Man or the Donkey Kong video game.
The also think the change will help them get straight A's so they can make the principal's honor roll.
"I was here when the same-sex classes started last year, and I like it because you're not embarrassed to discuss personal matters," said Antionette Barbour, a fifth-grader from Southeast.
"In coed classes, the boys would [taunt] you, and that doesn't happen anymore. I'm on the honor roll, but my goal is to get on the principal's honor roll."
Still, Antionette says she and her friends are not preoccupied with boys. She'd rather get accepted to Harvard University.
"Most people think we talk about boys when we have playtime," she says. "But they are the last thing on our minds. Sometimes we talk fashion. We have a passion for fashion the whole package of making a good presentation."
Justine Kelley, a classmate, said the classes eliminate boys interrupting her studies and they allow her to talk more openly about growing up. "And you get to act silly around your girlfriends," she said. "Girls do have a sense of humor."
Justine, an honor roll student and aspiring writer, says she has read about 10 books since October and wants to read more because it improves her vocabulary and helps with class work.
That was not the case last year when the girls objected more than the boys about the change. But their teacher, Heather Ampofo-Anti, thinks most of the girls now realize the benefits.
"They're wonderful, smart, bright and loving," she said. "The exciting thing is they want to learn. They want to show me they can do the work. Yes, they are focused. And, yes, they are doing the work."


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