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Will boys learn better if girls aren’t allowed?

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Second-graders Franklin Varela (left) and Tommy Woodard wait for teacher Amy Marshall to begin their writing lesson at Riverview Elementary School in Spotsylvania County. The two are part of a pilot program to see if boys will learn more and behave better in a single-sex class. / Photos by Autumn Parry

Seven-year-old Michael Bowman thinks girls are “boring” and doesn’t want them in his second-grade class.

Luckily, Michael is a member of Riverview Elementary School’s only all-boy classroom.

“It’s easier to learn,” he said about being in a class without girls. “They talk too much.”

This year, Riverview is trying single-sex education in one of its five second-grade classes as a pilot program.

If the pilot is successful, Riverview may create more single-gender classes in the second grade, or other age groups.

Principal Diane Holmes said she noticed that the grade was predominately male when school officials divided up classes over the summer.

She then began researching single-sex education and said she wanted to see firsthand if Riverview could recreate examples of single-sex classrooms scoring higher on tests and having fewer behavior issues.

The class, made up of 20 boys, is taught by Amy Marshall.

“It’s been fabulous,” Marshall said about teaching the boys. “They have lots of energy and boys just think differently.”

Amy Marshall reviews Christopher Johnson’s sentences with him during their writing session in the boys-only class that she teaches.

Holmes said she and Marshall read books on single-sex education, including “A Gendered Choice” by David Chadwell, a single-sex education consultant. They also Skyped with Chadwell recently to talk about their class and his recommendations for an all-male group.

“It’s been interesting to see how they organize themselves,” Holmes said.

Holmes said that boys feel less confident in classes with girls, and so far the students in the all-male class have been more vocal when answering questions.

It is too early to tell if the new learning environment will translate into higher test scores. Holmes said testing data will be analyzed later in the year and that during winter break, surveys will be sent home for students and parents to rate their satisfaction with the class.

Marshall said the class is on track academically and that the boys have responded well to the nontraditional classroom.

Instead of counting up to a deadline, she counts down with this class. The structure works well for the boys, who know they need to complete their task by the time she reaches zero, she said.

She also has them stand up to answer questions instead of raising their hands. Marshall said it helps them expend energy so they don’t act out, and it’s a fun change in their routine.

She decorates the room with pictures of monsters and animals, and encourages them to be “nice ninjas” in line.

Marshall said the boys have good days and bad days, but she’s seen a marked improvement in their behavior and they make teaching even more fun than usual.

On a recent Friday, half of the class gathered around Marshall during a social studies lesson about Native American tribes.

“What kind of houses did the Lakotas live in?” she asked the group.

They all stood up to answer the question.

“Teepees,” they said.

One boy added, “They look like triangles.”

After that exercise, the class watched a video on the Lakotas and then drew diagrams about the tribe.

The other half of the class went to guidance counselor Martha Cowles’ room for a weekly behavior session. She teaches them about respect and developing social skills.

Riverview Elementary guidance counselor Martha Cowles calls on Ethan Eastwood, 7, as Franklin Varela, 7, raises his hand during a brotherhood club meeting. The club, an extension of a boys-only second-grade class at the school, is designed to strengthen character and develop team-building skills.

Cowles calls their sessions “the brotherhood club.” In the club, they have a code to memorize: “Brothers respect others,” or “BRO” for short.

At this day’s brotherhood club, the students made an anti-bullying comic book. They created super heroes who save bullied victims and educate others.

Seven-year-old Isaiah Ward’s super hero was the Wolf Man. Isaiah said he likes wolves and thinks they would be good at protecting people.

Isaiah also said that he likes going to brotherhood club because they get to do crafts.

However, he misses having girls in class.

“It’s kind of crazy sometimes with just boys,” he said.

Chris Johnson, 7, was in the same group and drew a super hero named “Rocket Face” saving a victim of bullying. He said he doesn’t like being in an all-male class.

“It kind of disturbs me,” he said. “I want all of my friends in my class, not just the boys.”

Franklin Varela, also 7, said he also misses the girls, but he doesn’t mind being in a class of all boys because he gets to see the girls at lunch and during recess.

He played tag with his female friends Friday.

After the students finished their comic book drawings, they returned to Marshall’s classroom. Even though one of his classmates rode his chair around the room like a horse and Chris roughhoused with Franklin, Tommy Woddard stayed quiet and worked on his Lakota diagram.

“This class is fun,” the 7-year-old said. “It’s easier ’cause it’s all boys. And it’s just more fun.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976