The lunch period at any school can sometimes be a chaotic scene of boys and girls vying for each other’s attention.
Officials at two Hamilton middle schools have discovered that separating boys and girls during lunch and recreation periods is resulting in students eating healthier, being more active and behaving better.
Wilson Middle School instituted a gender-segregated lunch and recreation system for its 600-plus students seven years ago, and Garfield Middle School has utilized the system with its 700-plus student body on and off for more than 15 years, depending on the principal at the time.
School districts across the country have experimented with single-sex lunch and recreation periods as a way to improve student behavior and cut down on the teasing, rough-housing and flirting that can occur when boys and girls get together. Some education experts contend the systems allow middle schoolers to actually focus on eating and exercising, rather than worrying about impressing the opposite sex.
“Body image is huge focus for girls at this age (12-14),” said Linda Milholland, eighth-grade counselor at Wilson. “I can see where they (girls) would be reluctant to eat in front of boys or participate in intramurals.”
Brandon Stanfill, principal at Garfield, said when he started at the school last fall, the building had since been reverted back to mixed lunches and recreation time. He made the switch back to segregated periods, and has seen an improvement in the students’ attitudes and behaviors.
“The number of females taking a full lunch skyrocketed,” Stanfill said. “I went into the cafeteria and nearly all of them had a lunch. I hadn’t seen that before.”
June McQueen, food service manager, said since the segregated lunches have been re-introduced at Garfield, the sale of fresh-made sub sandwiches, wraps and salads has picked up. She said the female population is actually sitting down to a full meal.
“A lot of time girls are intimidated and don’t want to eat in front of boys,” McQueen said.
That’s been one positive for seventh-grader Sierra Evans, who said she can also be active without boys in the room.
“It’s less embarrassing to eat; it makes you feel awkward (with boys),” Evans said.
Overall though, Evans said she’d like the system to go back to being mixed. She doesn’t like not being able to “hang out with the cute boys” or talk to her guy friends.
“There’s always drama with girls and something new to fight about,” Evans said.
Both Stanfill and Sheryl Burk, principal at Wilson, said when the buildings had mixed lunches it was more difficult to keep track of where students should be because they were jumping lunch periods to eat with friends.
Burk said the segregated recreation time has allowed the female students more opportunities to play basketball and volleyball. She said often the male students play aggressively and with greater intensity.
“It gives girls a better opportunity to play at intramurals,” Burk said. “It’s been a pretty effective plan for us.”
Wayne Bowling, safe and secure monitor at Garfield, said he’s supervised recreation for 11 years. He said the lunch and rec periods are more organized and have fewer fights when segregated.
“They behave a lot better and there are less fights,” Bowling said. “Girls are more active when the boys aren’t there.”
Dale Jordan, eighth-grader, said the segregated rec time has actually brought the male students closer at Garfield. He said there were more problems during seventh grade when the periods were mixed.
“It’s better because when you have boys in front of girls they are more provoked to show off,” Jordan said.
Hannah Jones, an eighth-grader at Garfield, said she likes the separated system because the male students are “immature and too rough.”
“We can be ourselves when girls are here,” Jones said. “There’s more trouble when guys are here because girls want to show off.”
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