Saint Francis adds boys in shift to coed classes
The historically all-girls Saint Francis School is launching an educational experiment with coed seventh and eighth grades this fall.
The Catholic school in Manoa will split students into coed and single-gender classes with the belief that some girls might do better academically with boys around.
Saint Francis Principal Sister Joan of Arc Souza said the idea to mix girls with boys while leaving others in girls-only classes originated in large part because of studies done by JoAnn Deak, a longtime psychologist and educator.
Deak's research shows that about two in 10 girls rely on the left side of the brain, like most boys do, to learn math, so they often perform well in a coed setting.
But a majority of girls depend on both sides of the brain through a link that sometimes does not fully develop until they are well into high school and is key for them to understand more complex subjects like algebra. That means girls lacking that brain connection in earlier grades tend to have a hard time keeping up with their male classmates unless given detailed lessons with real-life examples, Deak said Friday in an phone interview from Ohio.
Souza said she has been impressed with Deak, who has spoken numerous times at the campus.
"In listening to her, and watching and observing, I think she is correct," she said.
"If it works, it will be policy," Souza added when asked whether students in all grades would eventually be able to pick from coed or single-gender classes. "And I don't see why it wouldn't work. I'm hoping it will be successful."
When school begins Friday, it will mark the first time Saint Francis, an all-girls school for more than 80 years, will enroll seventh- and eighth-grade boys.
It selected girls whom educators believe will benefit from coed teaching to create one class with about 11 boys in grade 7 and another about some five boys in grade 8, Souza said. Students placed in all-girls classes will interact with boys during noncore subjects like languages and fine arts, she said. Also, no children will be locked into either mode and will be allowed to switch classes, Souza said.
Eighth-grade teacher Loyda Zamalloa said quiet students can feel more comfortable in a single-gender group. But she supports the plan to add coed classes.
"I myself went to coed everything, so I definitely see the benefits of being able to relate to the male gender as a kid because that's part of life," she said.
Saint Francis is joining a growing number of schools, including many that are public, in offering both single-sex and coed classes, according to Deak, who said the approach tends to increase the number of students in Advancement Placement courses in areas such as physics and chemistry.
For the 2008-2009 academic year, at least 392 public schools in the United States will offer single-sex educational opportunities, according to the nonprofit National Association for Single Sex Public Education. It says most of those schools are coed but provide boys- or girls-only classrooms.
Saint Francis has 380 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and is slowly shifting to coed, having added boys to kindergarten in 2006. Last year, boys were accepted to the first and sixth grades.
The school, which opened in 1924 in Liliha to prepare girls for religious life and work with Hansen's disease patients, moved to its Manoa campus in 1931. It hopes to have boys in all grades by the 2012-13 school year.