It could be said that Daniel Piggott Jr.’s common core algebra class is a boys’ club, and that’s the way Piggott likes it.Piggott led the charge to implement single gender classes at Carver High School in the 2012-13 school year. The Carver alumnus currently teaches three sections of algebra to freshmen males. Another Carver teacher, Charita Ward, leads all-female classes, while a third instructor is charged with mixed gender groups.
“This has been a pleasant experience,” the father of two said of teaching single gender classes.
“I remember being a young man in these same halls at Carver High School, so I see a lot of myself when I see them, and it allows us a lot of opportunities to talk about things other than math. You can just talk about being a minority male in the United States of America.”
Freshman Tahari Abdus-Salaam admitted that he expected Piggott’s class to be “lame” without girls in it, but “it turned out to be okay,” said the 14-year-old, who added that he feels more confident in an all-male environment. “We talk about how our day has been.”
Piggott, who is in his 19th year of teaching, attended a workshop on single-gender classes in Chicago last spring, and said he came home inspired to bring the project to Carver. He spent the summer going door to door, explaining the benefits of the project to parents of incoming freshmen. Carver Principal Ronald Travis said he was already aware of the advantages of single-gender classes, and he felt in Piggott, he had the right man for the job.
“The teacher goes a long way in making this stuff work,” Travis said. “You’ve got to have the right personality in the room.”
Travis said he believes single gender classrooms afford students a more comfortable, nurturing environment, and he fully expects end of grade test scores to reflect that reality.
“I’m very pleased with it,” he said of the program. “Anytime you’re putting kids in a situation that gives them more opportunity to be successful, that’s a good thing, particularly when you’re talking about black males. A lot of our black males have not experienced a lot of success in these math classrooms.”
Piggott, a North Carolina A&T State University alumnus, says teaching single-gender classes allows him to mold the coursework to suit the learning style and interests of his students.
“Boys are so competitive, so I’m able to use that competitive nature to get them to compete academically, and I’m able to tailor my word problems to things that boys are interested in,” he related. “I can gear things towards their likes. They like a lot of the same things, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
Leading all male classes has afforded him the opportunity to connect with his students on a deeper level, Piggott added.
“We’re able to reach one another more. Being a minority male, I’m able to relate to a lot of the things they’re going through,” he said. “I think I am able to allow more of myself, my own personality, to come out because we’re among men.”
Single gender classrooms also eliminate the distraction of the opposite sex, and the pressure that often comes along with that, and he has much fewer disciplinary problems in single gender environments, Piggott said.
“A lot of times, guys are afraid to take risks in a class. They are afraid of being wrong in front of that cute female,” he remarked. “And girls a lot of times don’t want to appear too smart in front of guys.”
Isamael Cuadra-Rodriguez admitted he was a little surprised the first time he walked into Piggott’s classroom.
“I thought it was gonna be chicks in there, pretty chicks, but then I ended up walking in … and it was all dudes,” the city native related. “At first, I thought it was going to be weird and bad, but then we all got along.”
Isamael, the third of seven children, says the absence of girls has boosted his classroom performance.
“You stay more focused when there’s only dudes in the class,” he said. “If you want to focus in class and actually get your grades up, you might as well be in a one-gender class.”
John Davenport, vice chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, is one of the program’s staunchest supporters.
“We understand that boys and girls learn differently, process things differently – science has proven this,” commented the father of five. “There are some advantages when you can get the boys or girls in a classroom where you can teach the way that they learn best.”
Though he cautions that single gender classes aren’t for everyone, and parents must consent to their children being enrolled in one, the approach has proven effective for certain subsets of students in other school systems, especially minority males, Davenport said.
“I feel like it’s one of the tools that we should be using to address the achievement gap, and the disciplinary issues, the overrepresentation of African American males in the disciplinary process,” commented Davenport, who has visited single gender classrooms in several different cities across the nation. If the students surpass their expected performance on end of grade tests, it will be proof that the single gender classes are working, and all the encouragement he would need to support an expansion of the program at Carver next year, Davenport said.
“I’m excited to see what’s going on in the classroom at Carver,” he said. “From what I’ve heard about it, I’m all for it expanding.”