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Education Reporter

Great Idea! Single-Sex Lunches — Less Drama, More Eating
Middle school is about the time hormone-fueled boys and girls begin to really notice each other. That dynamic can make for drama-filled lunch periods replete with flirting, teasing, and rough-housing as boys and girls try to impress one another.

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Michael Archibeque, principal of Pleasant Valley Middle School, noticed that many students were so focused on socializing that they never got around to eating lunch. "It seemed like 80% of our students were throwing away whole lunches. Then they'd be hungry later," he said.

Archibeque is one of three Wichita, Kansas area middle school principals who decided to institute single-sex lunches over the past couple of years. Since last fall, boys eat lunch while the girls go to recess; then the groups switch.

Students — especially girls — began eating more almost immediately, he said. As time went on, Archibeque noticed the new arrangement also decreased many behavior problems.

"Any unstructured time is a challenge," he said. "You have lots of verbal altercations that can escalate, and part of that is showing off in front of others." Archibeque said by this time last year, 15 students had been expelled, several for incidents that started during lunch. In contrast, only two students have been expelled this year.

Truesdell Middle School principal Jennifer Sinclair initiated single-sex lunches at her school two years ago. She said she got tired of breaking up inappropriate kissing and refereeing social dramas.

Sinclair said the positive impact of single-sex lunches extends beyond lunchtime because problematic interactions that used to start at lunch tended to carry over into recess and the classroom.

While it took some time to get used to, many Truesdell students now seem to prefer the gender-separated lunches. Sinclair related that when teachers recently offered a co-ed lunch as a fundraiser reward, the kids said "Yuck, why would we want that?"

Interestingly, Leonard Sax, director of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, does not favor gender-separated lunches. He calls lunch period "the most important period of the day in terms of negotiating relationships and . . . learning social skills."

Sax, a psychologist and author of several books, would prefer to see boys separated from girls in the classroom to better accommodate their learning needs. He said that single-sex lunches are "just a discipline measure. . . . The potential [of single-sex education] is so much greater in the content areas." (Reuters, 3-10-11)

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