Last month, the Yukon News received a letter from a concerned mother whose child would soon be entering Takhini Elementary School.
“Takhini practises segregated classrooms, meaning boys and girls are split,” wrote Jessica Sjodin.
“I strongly disagree with this philosophy, it is not appropriate for my child and I am not sending him to that school.”
But are single-gender classrooms really that bad?
Almost two years into the pilot program, how is it going?
“I would say that, from my observations, the boys in the classrooms are very pleased with life,” said Takhini principal Kelly Collins.
“The girls miss the boys. The girls miss socializing with boys.
“But I tell them, ‘Well, when you’re in class it’s not a time for socializing, it’s a time for doing your work. You can socialize at recess all you want.’”
It’s hard to answer definitively whether the program has been successful, said Collins.
“Generally, with a new program it would take three to five years to show specific continuous change,” he said.
“However, in our situation we did note some changes that occurred last year that seemed to carry over into this year in terms of student behaviour, attendance and attention to classroom work.”
During the first year of the pilot project, the school’s formal suspensions dropped from 22 to just three.
And those three suspensions were due to behaviour on the co-ed school bus, not in the single-gender classroom.
The number of children sent to the office for discipline has also dropped, from 253 referrals to 55.
And some grades have been improving.
Collins is reluctant to attribute these successes to the single-gender classrooms alone.
The school is also working very hard on a code of conduct for how to behave in and around school.
The school now starts the year with a two-week training session where lessons are given on how to do everything – from walking in the halls to riding the bus to paying attention in class.
The teachers also spend a lot of time explaining what they expect from the students in terms of both their work and behaviour.
The school is also now following a positive discipline approach.
“We have kids do things over if they mess up rather than punishing them,” said Collins.
“So it’s kind of a learning experience instead of a punishing experience.”
If a student is caught running in the hallways, they won’t be disciplined, only made to go back and walk.
If a student hands in a poorly written assignment, they won’t be failed but made to try again.
Not all of the classes at Takhini are single-gender.
The school currently has co-ed classes in kindergarten and Grade 4.
Grade 7 is technically a single gender class, although the boys and girls do study together some of the time.
The decision to try single-gender classrooms was not made lightly, said Collins.
Public meetings were held and teachers were sent to BC to see single-gender classrooms in operation.
“Some parents were in favour of it, some parents had had experience with it before that was positive,” said Collins.
“Other parents just thought it was something that they really didn’t want to be involved in.”
Collins believes that the school may have lost a few students because of the decision to switch to single-gender classrooms.
“I haven’t had anybody actually come to my office and say, ‘I’m taking my kid out of your school because of a single-gender class,’” he said.
“I have had some say, ‘I saw that you’re doing a single-gender class, we’re moving to Whitehorse and I’m putting my kid in your school.’”
Single-gender schools are gaining some support down south, said Collins.
This is because of the perception that boys are disadvantaged in the normal school system.
Generally, boys tend to be way more goal-oriented than girls, said Collins.
Girls need more processing, they want to talk more about things before getting down to work.
Boys also need more hands-on, moving-around activity while girls are more ready to sit and work quietly.
Jean Reeves, the school council chair, was an early supporter of the program and continues to be so.
“I thought if there’s an opportunity to maybe help our students be more successful, why not try it?”
Reeves’ son has gone to the school since kindergarten and is currently in Grade 7.
“He quite likes it,” she said.
“I think there’s more benefits than negatives, for sure.”
Because this is the end of the second year of the pilot program, the school and council will be looking into the program overall.
Last week, a survey was sent out to every parent in the school.
“If it’s really positive, then I think we’ll try to find a way to carry on with the program – if we can with the staffing that we’re going to have for next year,” said Collins.
“If it’s just neutral, then I think we’re going to have some tough decisions to make.”
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