Memphis public school splits students by gender, sees improvements

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — One public school in Memphis has been splitting up students by gender, and they say it's leading to better outcomes for students.

Booker T. Washington High School switched to boys-only and girls-only classes a decade ago.

Principal Alisha Kiner says gender-specific learning works best because it gets down to the core of how children learn — minus the pressure to impress or worry about who is paying attention to them.

"What we know from research is that girls will take more of a risk when boys are not around."

Kiner says when she introduced the idea in 2006 she also noticed behavior improvements. Boys stopped being written up, because they were able to address their issues in class.

Jaquisha Gray was a part of the pioneer gender separation program. She’s now a teacher at the school.

"Our freshman year, Ms. Kiner called us in to the auditorium. She said you're going to be separated. You guys will be separated by girls and boys. We were like, wait, what?"

Kiner made a deal with Gray and her classmates—if they didn’t like the change, she’d reverse it second semester. Second semester rolled around and 11 years later the approach continues.

"We don't have any complaints," Kiner said. "We offer the same things on the girl’s side that we offer on the boys side so there's a great opportunity on both sides."

Since the change the graduation rate has improved from 53 percent to 90.5 % in 2017.

WREG asked parents and students if they would be open to this approach.

"If it's going to improve grades and graduation then I'm all for it, and I think other schools should adapt to it," parent Monica Weston said.

But others also expressed their concern on whether it could hinder students in the long run since the real world isn’t separated.

"If you do separate them, there’s a whole different world outside of school. I don't want them to be in a box."

Gray says separate courses actually inspires a healthy spirit of competition.

"I have an all-boys class and an all-girls class. My boys are extremely competitive. They say all the time we are going to show you better than we can tell you that we are better than your girls, just watch."

Some students weren’t so convinced that improved grades had anything to do with separating boys from girls.

"It doesn't really matter it doesn't impact how I learn or how the next person learns. said 11th-grader A'Mone Weston.

Kiner says there's much more to it than bows or bow ties, and she'll stick to the science of separating the genders as long as her students continue to thrive.


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