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Sandra Yi reporting Looking toward improving education, more public schools are following an idea common in many elite, private schools.
Same Sex Classes.
A small middle school in Idaho, implemented a big change this past school year by separating the sixth grade boys and girls. Call it an experiment - in a new kind of Sex Education.
In the small farming town of Kimberly, Idaho - 4 miles east of Twin Falls - comes an innovative idea that has the nation taking notice.
Judy Watson/Principal, Kimberly Middle School: "I'VE HAD CALLS FROM NEW JERSEY, GEORGIA, MAINE."
Beryl Rieke/Science Teacher: "WE NEVER DREAMED PEOPLE WOULD BE INTERESTED IN IT."
Here in the classrooms of the town's only middle school - the sixth grade students are segregated by sex.
All the boys in one class.
The girls - in another.
Teachers embraced this idea last spring - as a way to improve learning, especially for the girls.
Beryl Rieke/Science Teacher: "VERY OFTEN, THE GIRLS WERE SHY OR QUIET AND DIDN'T ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS ALTHOUGH THEY WANTED TO, BUT THEY WERE AFRAID THAT THEY WOULD GET LAUGHED AT OR THE WRONG IMPRESSION OR SOMETHING."
Jim O'Donnell/Social Studies Teacher: "I TEACH SOCIAL STUDIES AND SO A LOT OF QUESTION AND ANSWERING THAT GOES ON WITH THAT. AND THE GIRLS WOULD TEND TO LET THE BOYS WHO ARE MORE AGGRESSIVE OFTENTIMES, TAKE THE LEAD."
At the same time - state education standards changed - demanding more from students.
Jim O'Donnell/Social Studies Teacher: "OUR INITIAL THOUGHT WAS, LET'S TRY IT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS. WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WOULD HAPPEN."
And what happened this last school year came as a pleasant surprise and a testament that, perhaps, their idea may be working.
Teachers say - the girls are talking more.
Beryl Rieke/Science Teacher: "WE'RE REALLY HAPPY TO FIND THAT THEY ARE ASKING QUESTIONS AND THEY ARE PARTICIPATING AND COMING UP WITH ANSWERS THEMSELVES AND REALLY ASKING THOUGHT PROVOKING QUESTIONS."
And the boys are less distracted.
Beryl Rieke/Science Teacher: "THEY'RE NOT TRYING TO IMPRESS ANYONE IS ONE OF THE BIG THINGS I NOTICE WITH THEM."
Teachers say single gender classes are best for kids at this grade level because they're going through phsycial and emotional changes. Studies also suggest girls ask fewer questions as they reach the sixth grade.
Judy Watson/Principal: "I'M NOT SURPRISED AT THE SUCCESS OF THE PROGRAM AS FAR AS THE STUDENTS GO. I'M SURPRISED AT ALL THE ATTENTION IT'S GETTING."
The idea of single gender classrooms has generated much interest among educators. Currently only 46 public schools across the nation offer some form of single sex education. Research suggests boys and girls do better academically in that environment.
But critics fear social skills are lost - if students are separated. That thought was in the backs of teachers' minds - at Kimberly.
Judy Watson/Principal: "OUR PHILOSOPHY IS THAT STUDENTS NEED TO LEARN HOW TO BE WITH EACH OTHER AND HOW TO RESPECT EACH OTHER AND YET ENJOY EACH OTHER'S COMPANY, AND YOU DON'T CUT THAT OFF."
Sandra Yi: "THE BOYS AND GIRLS STILL INTERACT AND SOCIALIZE TOGETHER DURING ELECTIVE COURSES LIKE P.E. AND AT LUNCH."
It's still too soon to tell if test scores will improve but the program appears to make the grade - for students.
Nicole Purneau/Student: "WHEN THE BOYS ARE WITH YOU, YOU'RE JUST REALLY SHY. YOU DON'T WANT TO DO ANYTHING. SO YOU WANT TO NOT BE STUPID IN FRONT OF THEM, YEAH. AND MY GRADES ARE BETTER TOO."
Teague Thomas/Student: "I'M PRETTY MUCH USED TO IT BECAUSE I USED TO HAVE A CLASS WITH MORE BOYS THAN GIRLS SO IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER TO ME."
The school plans to continue the program for sixth and 7th grade students this fall.
As for public schools in Utah - none offer single sex classes but the Granite district is talking about it. Administrators are waiting to see more studies that say there are significant benefits to that type of education.