With Monday's start of a new school year in Jackson, the middle school instituted a policy for the first nine weeks -- separate lunch and recess periods for male and female students in the sixth grade.
Middle school assistant principal Christa Turner said studies show that when girls and boys are separate during class, students focus more on academics and infractions decrease. The middle school still maintains co-ed classrooms, but for the first quarter will try separate lunch and recess periods for the 347 sixth-grade students. After the first quarter, the policy will be evaluated before determining whether it should be reinstated. Turner said there are no current plans to extend the policy to seventh-grade students, or to create gender-specific classrooms.
Turner said sixth grade is often the start of students beginning to notice the opposite sex and often that awareness can lead to social issues such as name calling and "he said, she said" arguments. While many of the incidents start during lunch and recess, they frequently continue in the classroom.
"The counselors spend a lot of time after lunch dealing with the social issues. That proceeds to the classroom," she said.
Turner said parents were informed of the policy during the school's open house earlier this month and that support has been overwhelmingly positive. She said only one parent has voiced concerns.
Gina Hobeck of Millersville has two grandchildren attending the middle school, including one sixth grader. She said she and the children's father are opposed to the policy.
"I disagree with the policy for several reasons. We all had to learn to deal with our emotions, actions when we were becoming aware of the opposite sex. To segregate them at the beginning of these feelings is only going to increase their curiosity or make them think there is something shameful about the way they are feeling. These are all perfectly normal feelings and need to be dealt with," she said.
Hobeck said she realized this may present additional challenges for teachers, but said children should learn life lessons.
Additionally, Hobeck said because the policy only affects sixth graders, she fears it could send them the message that they are bad, or cannot be trusted.
Hobeck said her grandchildren's father plans to contact the school about the issue.
Turner hopes the new policy will alleviate some of the discipline infractions many middle schools experience. She said the primary focus of her school is to provide students with a positive learning environment with minimal distractions.
"Our job is to educate children. Our job is not to provide them with their choice of social time. Destressing is important during the school day, and we continue to provide them the opportunity to do that," she said. She added students often feel less stress and pressure when they are surrounded with classmates of their own gender.
Jackson is the only middle school in the area segregating students for lunch and recess based on sex. Cape Girardeau Central Middle School assistant principal Rex Crosnoe said male and female students at his school eat lunch and take recess together, but they are separated by grade.
1651 W. Independence St., Jackson, MO