Advocates say splitting sexes holds promise
By KEVIN WACK, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
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Staff photo by Gregory Rec
Students listen to teacher Peter Gately talk about the theory of plate tectonics at the all-male Bridgton Academy. Front to back, at left are Soloman Boadi, Asa Bearse and Ryan Andrews. At right are Timothy Bolton, Jay Mazure and Luke Beal.
The New Gender Gap
Sunday: Maine's boys are lagging behind girls in the classroom, and there are signs that the gap is widening. (Read more ...)
Monday: The classroom struggles of boys do not end inside the walls of a university. The number of men at Maine's colleges is dwinding; many are not doing as well as women. (Read more ...)
Tuesday: The loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs in Maine threatens to leave men behind in an economy that holds less room for the uneducated and unskilled. (Read more ...)
TODAY: Maine schools are trying methods such as hands-on learning and single- sex classrooms to narrow the gender gap. (Read more ...)
What are boys reading?
Kelley McDaniel, the librarian at King Middle School in Portland, named the 2005 Walter J. Taranko School Library Media Specialist of the Year by the Maine Association of School Libraries, rated these books as the most popular reading picks among adolescent boys:
"Rats Saw God"
by Rob Thomas
"You Hear Me? : Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys"
edited by Betsy Franco
"The Rose that Grew from Concrete"
by Tupac Shakur
"Hole in My Life"
by Jack Gantos
by Matt Groening
by Chris Crutcher
"When Jeff Comes Home"
by Catherine Atkins
by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson
The Artemis Fowl series
by Eoin Colfer
by Christopher Paolini
by Adam Bagdasarian
The Ender series
by Orson Scott Card
"The Gospel According to Larry"
by Janet Tashjian
"The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint"
by Brady Udall
Panel on boys' academics
The academic achievement of boys will be the focus of a statewide conference on April 11 at Colby College in Waterville.
There will be keynote addresses by Thomas Mortensen, a leading national researcher on the educational gender gap, and William Pollack, author of "Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood."
The conference is open to the public. It will feature workshops on issues such as cultural images of masculinity and how colleges can better meet the needs of young men.
It's being co-sponsored by the nonprofit Boys To Men, which brings Maine sons and fathers together to reinforce positive images of masculinity.
For information, contact Gwen Merrick at 780-5191, or e-mail [email protected]
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NORTH BRIDGTON -- Many of the students at Bridgton Academy were star athletes in high school, but here they're no longer big men on campus. Their new peers include a 7-foot-3-inch basketball center, a 327-pound football player and, most notably, not a single girl.
This private school on a rustic hillside is Maine's only outpost of all-male education. Most of the students are high-school graduates and many are hoping to boost their grades so they can go to college and play sports. During their stints at Bridgton, the students have observed differences from their co-ed high schools.
"I think it's more relaxed in the classroom," said Maurice Rodriguez, 19, an offensive lineman on the football team.
"It's less of a distraction. It's more focused," added Michael Byrd, an 18-year-old soccer player.
For decades, single-sex education was on the decline in the United States. But there are now signs of a reverse, even in public education.
A little-publicized provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 allows public schools to experiment with separate classrooms, so long as both genders get the same opportunities.
Today, at least 211 public schools in 33 states offer separate classes for girls and boys, up from just four such schools in 1998, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.
Proponents are getting a boost from recent media attention on the classroom struggles of boys, though backers say single-sex classes can benefit both male and female students.
Dr. Leonard Sax, who has written about research on brain differences between the sexes, is perhaps the country's most prominent advocate of single-sex education. He says it's important for schools to prepare before grouping students by gender.
"If you just put girls in one room and boys in the other you don't accomplish anything," Sax said. "Schools need to do their homework."
Ellenville, N.Y., a town of about 4,000 people south of Albany, introduced single-sex classrooms at its middle school in 2002. Initially, single-sex classes were mandatory in math, English, social studies and science. They have since become optional.
Principal Glenn Bollin said boys in sixth, seventh and eighth grades have been less likely to show off when no girls are present. "Kids were more focused, I think, on the topics at hand," he said.
But the experiment in Ellenville has not made believers out of many teachers and parents. Only about 25 percent of teachers reported that they'd like to teach single-sex classes again, Bollin said, and a slightly smaller percentage of parents wanted to re-enroll their kids.
So far in Maine's public schools, there have been only flickers of interest in single-sex classrooms.
Administrators in Wiscasset, concerned about the achievement gap between girls and boys, are thinking about trying a pilot program. The idea also was raised during a recent meeting for parents of freshman boys at Lewiston High School, but the attendees didn't show much interest.
At Bridgton Academy, 18-year-old men spend a lot of time developing the discipline and study skills that many of their female peers learned at a younger age. There's a ban on wearing hats indoors. Two hours of study hall are required every weeknight.
"Boys like clear guidelines. They don't want to guess about it," said David Hursty, the academy's headmaster.
Martin Lodish took over as Bridgton's academic dean last year following a long stint at The Hill School in Philadelphia, which went co-ed several years ago. He feels it's harder for boys to be themselves in co-ed schools because they constantly are trying to impress girls.
"I firmly believe that boys just need longer to get it together, to grow up," he said.
- Staff Writer Beth Quimby contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Kevin Wack can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:[email protected]