Gym class every Thursday at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy in Pleasant Grove is unusual. Instead of typical sports or activities, the Boy Scouts take over, teaching the students camping and other skills.
Something else sets this school apart: It’s the district’s first all-boys school that’s not a magnet campus.
“This school is the only comprehensive neighborhood school where the children don’t have to take a test to get in. If you live in this feeder pattern, you go this school,” said Kevin Malonson, the coordinator of the academy at Fred Florence Middle School.
He says the district’s only other boys school is the Barack Obama Academy, which has an entrance exam.
“The district has a huge push for school choice,” Malonson said. “And they wanted to try as many different formats as they possibly could. We visited a lot of single-gender schools all around the country. We talked to a lot of parents and business and community stakeholders. And this was the model that they thought would be successful in this area.”
Malonson says so far, so good. The middle school, which has about 900 students, met state standards before the switch, and did so after. Still, test scores here are way below the state average.
Making the switch
Sixth-grader Andreous Devall, 12, says he’s fine with the all-boys school.
“It did not bother me because all my friends from last year, they came to this school,” Andreous said. “It didn’t bother me because I had lots of friends to protect me.”
Andreous had heard about older bullies in middle school, but he hasn’t met any. Sixth-grader Adin Roberts also made the adjustment.
“I was going to be a little nervous at first,” Adin, 11, said. “Because I’m not used to only boys in my class.”
Adin’s nerves calmed down. He likes the school and is even learning guitar in class. His parents Justin Roberts and Sherise Rhodes made the adjustment, too.
“If there was any big issue, we probably would have switched schools,” Rhodes says. “But he settled in pretty nicely and seems to like it there.
School officials made this change hoping in part the absence of girls might improve education for the boys.
“I think some of them also find comfort in the fact that there are no young ladies in the room to be embarrassed in front of," Malonson said. "A lot of the distractions you have are taken away.”
There’s are two all-girls neighborhood school in the Dallas district. A third school is a magnet campus with entrance requirements.
Benefits of single-sex schools
Amber Simpson, an assistant professor at Binghamton University in New York, has studied middle school students in all-boys and all-girls science classes. She says girls tend to do better in class without boys. But she’s talked with boys in all-boys classes, and they tell her they prefer having girls in class.
“They felt that girls gave them more of a competition,” Simpson said. “There seemed to be a competitive atmosphere. They were always competing against each other. And so two out of three actually preferred coeducational just because of that context of there’s more competition.”
Simpson says after decades of study, it remains hard to determine whether single-sex classes improve academics.
“It really comes down to all these external factors such as, teacher-student relationships, your experiences with family…I think it’s really hard to pinpoint that being in a room or in a school with all one sex is going to make such a huge impact,” Simpson said.
Other education experts say there are both good single-sex and coed schools, and students can thrive in both.
Noel Peña, 12, seems ready for whatever comes his way at this all-boys school. He’s inspired to follow in his dad’s footsteps. His father’s a construction worker, but Noel wants to do something a little different.
“The subject I want to pursue is either math or reading. Math, mostly because it’s going to help me more pursue my dream of an architect,” Noel said.
He’s also on the school’s debate team. And he likes it. So he’s considering another career option: President of the United States.
“If president doesn’t work out, I’ve got a back-up plan," Noel said. "If architect doesn’t work out, I have president. It’s always better to have a back-up plan if something doesn’t work out.”
Malonson says kids have asked him if this school will remain an all-boys school, and he says yes. In fact, he’s convinced that when these boys finish middle school, the district will need to create an all-boys high school for them.