- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
There was an election last week at Leonardtown Middle School. Boys and girls won.
But not by much.
Here were the choices:
Should boys eat lunch and have recess with boys, and girls with girls?
Or should boys and girls have lunch and recess together?
Students and school staff were invited to vote. It was a squeaker, but the idea of boys and girls eating together won by nine votes. So, by this exercise in democracy, ended an experiment in place since the beginning of the school year separating lunch and recess by gender.
As with many elections, there were complicated issues involved. On the one hand there were the advantages of some time to socialize with members of the opposite sex at ages when that is becoming more interesting — most middle school students are between 11 and 13 years old. That was the choice of 299 voters.
On the other hand there were the advantages of being able to socialize with old friends that students donít get to see much during the day. The students are split into teams, and now will resume having lunch with boys and girls from their teams, with no chance to spend time with other friends from elementary school or their neighborhood. There were 290 voters picking that option.
Shortly after that vote, Esperanza Middle School also abandoned its gender separation policy during lunch and recess. This was put in place last year for eighth-graders and expanded to sixth- and seventh-graders this school year.
At Esperanza, the principal said, the gender separation relieved some of the social pressure for boys and girls to get attention. There were fewer discipline referrals and students, especially boys, more quickly regained focus for learning after returning to class.
But now this experiment has been abandoned at both schools, and will not be attempted at Spring Ridge or Margaret Brent middle schools.
As the close vote at Leonardtown indicated, opinions about this were divided among students. And letís not minimize how much interest it generated. It affects the only relatively unstructured time in the school day for students.
The advantages of separating lunch and recess by gender may be greater for staff than for students. Boys and girls each have their own ways of learning to gain attention from the opposite sex, and that process can certainly be disruptive.
But in the end the idea of segregating students by gender for this portion of the school day has been abandoned, perhaps partly because of that very word — segregation. And in the end, perhaps it is just as well.
The student body at the public schools is a diverse stew of young people from all backgrounds. The classroom lessons are the primary purpose of the schools, and keeping the attention of students, especially middle school students, on those lessons is the primary aim of educators.
But other learning goes on in the public schools as well, and much of that comes from being around peers of a different race, background and yes, gender.
The distractions and disruptions this brings are a part of growing up, and it falls to educators to act as referees, in class and at lunch.