Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, all fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at Field Elementary School will be separated by gender.
After a parents meeting Tuesday evening, teachers, administrators and Columbia Public School District officials decided to expand the single-sex classrooms to include fourth-grade students. Field implemented single-sex classrooms for fifth-graders during the 2006-07 school year.
Field principal Carol Garman said that increased fifth-grade test scores helped with the decision.
“We have seen improvements, particularly in areas of mathematics,” she said. “We felt like we saw an added benefit of confidence in academic ability through gender-specific classrooms. The data kind of speaks for itself.”
Fifth-grade teacher Erica Borcherding saw the improvements first-hand in her all-girl classroom this year. She found that students could focus on academics, rather than social interactions taking first priority.
“Both genders approach situations and learning differently,” Borcherding said. “While both genders can participate in discussions in the classroom, I think the girls work better with discussions and helping each other come to a conclusion.”
Parents and students were also given a chance to weigh in on the decision. In addition to the parents meeting, Garman said that a note was sent home to third and fourth-grade parents. They were that asked whether parents were interested in the idea, would be able to attend the meeting or needed more information before forming an opinion.
“We gave them the opportunity to respond back,” Garman said. “Overwhelmingly, parents liked the idea of it.”
Jeff Krall, parent of a fourth-grader at Field, is excited about his son’s entering a single-sex fifth-grade classroom. Even though his son will only be in the environment for a year, Krall thinks the time will be productive.
“It will be a good year for growth,” he said. “By this time some kids are talking about dating, but they need to take care of themselves and their study skills before they move on to that. It will be a good foundation even if he moves back to a (mixed-gender) classroom the next year.”
Parents of current fifth-grade students have been supportive of the program, said Borcherding, who said one parent thought it made a “real difference in the life of her daughter.” She hopes the creation of single-sex classes in fourth grade will have benefits for fifth-grade as well.
“With increased learning in fourth-grade classes, students will be more prepared when they come to us,” she said.
Although teachers, parents and administrators seem to approve of the new setup, Krall said it may be harder to get his son and other students excited — at least for the next few months.
“It’s a little early for him to be thinking past summer vacation right now,” he said.
Missourian reporter Kendra Lueckert contributed to this article.