Gender

School Showcase Feature: Woodbridge Middle School

Creating sustainable, quality education programming is a driving force for all public schools. We all look deeply and rationally at our students, striving to identify their needs. However, with all that is before us, it can seem like an overwhelming task. Here at Woodbridge Middle, we spent some time researching, analyzing, and planning such a program that would benefit students regardless of their achievement level or demographic. With this in mind, we established an opt-in Same Gender Program based on the research of Dr. Leonard Sax.

Currently fifty percent of the students at our public, coed middle school receive their instruction in language arts, math, science, and social studies in an all-boy or all-girl setting. We have multiple learning community structures in place which extend beyond simply building time in the master schedule so that teams and departments can meet. Our structures provide opportunities for teachers to constantly examine how we do business, what impact we have on students, and what we need to consider for improvement as we move forward. Our goal is to continuously search for better ways to meet the academic, emotional, developmental, and social needs of our students. Our Same Gender Program is one example of how we have worked together to meet the needs of our students.

The all-boy program’s objective is to establish an environment in which middle school boys can learn best. Through research and student observations, we have developed an active, kinesthetic-learning environment where boys can succeed. An all-boys lesson modifies the topics, activities, and instructional delivery to increase student engagement. Within the all-boys program, we have developed a House System where students participate in healthy competition in both academics and extra-curricular activities. The House System also serves as our behavior management tool, in which students take ownership of their own behaviors and adjust their social tendencies. At the conclusion of our program, we hope to develop young men with good character and the motivation to succeed.

Similarly, we have developed an all-girls program with the aim of building leadership, integrity, and self-awareness. By excluding the distraction of gender stereotypes and building upon gender differences, we have, as Dr. Sax put it, “got beyond pink and blue.” We see girls as individuals and understand that they do not need to be trapped by certain feminine stereotypes, such as “girls are not good at math and science.” Instead, we create opportunities that allow them to succeed by modifying their environment. For instance, we expose students to female scientists, mathematicians, and authors in the hopes of providing examples of greatness. We also utilize texts with strong girls as major characters who have attributes with which they can identify.

Additionally, we spend a great deal of time providing a safe place where girls can express themselves without the fear of failure or competition. As reporter Sara Rimer of The New York Times explained, “being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls.” Our teams seek to reduce the anxiety many girls experience by citing mantras such as Failure Leads to Success, Be Flexible, and Practice Balance. These keys of excellence help the girls release the deep-seated feelings of insecurity many of them have experienced throughout their academic and social careers. It also gives them permission to take risks where they may not historically have done so.

The middle school experience can be isolating and overwhelming for many students.  By understanding how boys and girls learn differently, our school has created a welcoming place where All are Respected  and Achievement is Expected regardless of gender, demographics, and other characteristics. While we have by no means perfected the model, we are confident in its effectiveness and continue to build upon our successes.

Woodbridge Middle School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking RanksSchool Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Woodbridge team will be presenting A Same Gender Option: Boys and Girls are Different! on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Tefft Middle School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.