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It’s Not Boys VS. Girls

Posted 05/12/2008

I am glad to see that gender-specific programming merits front page above- the-fold news. As the head of a mentoring organization that is committed to remaining gender-specific, it was encouraging to read that both the Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and our Superintendent Carol Johnson see the value of single-sex education.  As Spellings was quoted as saying “I’m all about things that get results.” And, isn’t that what we want for our children, results? Girls and boys face different social, emotional, and developmental challenges as they navigate their way through childhood and adolescence to become self-sufficient adults. The divergence of achievement and graduation rates among boys and girls alone, (as the article points out) suggests that traditional methods and classroom environments need responsible and continuous reassessment.  It is incumbent upon us as leaders, teachers, policy makers, parents, and citizens who care about our children, to create learning opportunities, both in school and in the community, which foster the healthy development of our children. At Big Sister, we do just that.  
Research shows that focusing on gender gets results. After a 3-year study of the impact of gender in mentoring, Jean Rhodes, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston says “Our research suggests that girls and boys who are referred to youth mentoring programs face different sets of challenges and have different developmental needs. Consequently, they are likely to be better served in programs that are specifically geared to meet those needs and challenges. Indeed, to the extent that mentoring programs incorporate gender-specific training and awareness, volunteers are likely to be more effective agents of change.”

We train our Big Sisters on how to address the specific developmental needs of adolescent girls and continue to support them in this area throughout their relationship with a girl (Little Sister).  As a result, our Little Sisters show marked improvement in their self-esteem, academic performance, relationships with peers and adults, and their ability to avoid delinquency.  Now, imagine putting this gender-specific experience in the classroom.  Given the specific attention and support they need, girls, and boys, will thrive academically. 

Gender-specific educational options are not about separating the girls from the boys, but about giving both genders the opportunity to learn in an environment that best meets their individual needs.  It IS all about results.