For many girls who will start sixth grade on Wednesday at Fort Mill Middle School, there won't be a boy in sight in their math, social studies, language arts or science classes.
Several boys won't set eyes on a girl while taking their core subjects, either.
Approximately 28 percent of the sixth-grade class and 42 percent of the seventh grade will participate in FMMS's inaugural single-gender initiative this school year. The school's previous principal, Dr. Tommy Schmolze, first became interested in the innovative approach and the current principal, Greg Norton, completed the process.
“The more we found out about it, the more we wanted to offer the single-gender choice to our parents,” said Norton.
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FMMS is the only school in the district to offer the option.
Last spring, parents were invited to attend a presentation on Opportunities for Single-Gender Education by the S.C. Department of Education. There they learned of several instances where single-gender classes outperformed co-ed classes in the 97 schools in the state with similar programs. The presentation explained that boys and girls will learn the same content and skills, but they will learn the material differently. For instance, discussions in female classes will often be conducted in a circle, whereas teachers of a male class will provide more structured movement opportunities.
Get details on FMMS' Web site at www.fmms.fort-mill.k12.sc.us or at the department of education's Web site: www.ed.sc.gov/sgi.
FMMS parents were given the choice to request single-gender classes or co-ed classes, or to respond that they had no preference. “Over one-third of the parents requested single-gender classes for their child, but not all could be accommodated because of scheduling issues,” Norton said.
Interestingly, single-gender classes for girls are more populated than the boys' classes in both the sixth and seventh grades.
While a student's core academic classes might be single-gender, all related arts classes as well as lunch remain co-ed, providing plenty of opportunity for kids to mix and mingle.
South Carolina is one of the nation's leaders in single-gender education, and David Chadwell from the S.C. Department of Education came to FMMS in July to provide training for its staff. “The teachers are excited about the program,” Norton said.
“We have two goals in creating the single-gender choice for our students,” he said. “The first is to continue to increase our high level of academic achievement. The second goal deals with the socialization aspect – we will try to take away some of the drama that exists during the middle school years so they can focus more on learning.”
As the school monitors its progress, residents can rejoice in a school district that continues to offer choices in education.