Jefferson Middle School is scheduled to become the first middle school in the U.S. to convert from coeducational classes to separate single gender classes for boys and girls. The Board of Education last week unanimously approved the pilot districtwide magnet to open this fall for approximately 500 girls and 500 boys in grades 6, 7 and 8. The decision was made after a January survey of parents attending the Education Celebration showcase of district magnet programs at the Pyramid at CSULB. Fifty-eight percent of the parents surveyed indicated that they would be interested in having their children attend single gender classes at their neighborhood middle school or another school close to home. "The potential for academic success is enhanced whenever parents and students are provided with an opportunity to choose the particular school program which they believe best meets their needs and interests," said DeVries. "There is significant reason to believe that such a program, provided to those who request it, will bring about real academic improvement." Jefferson was selected because of its central location. Current Jefferson sixth and seventh graders will have the first priority for enrollment. Students living in the Jefferson area, including students from feeder elementary schools, will receive the next opportunity to enroll. Any remaining spaces will be open to applicants from throughout the school district. Based on early responses from parents and students, the new single gender classes are expected to be filled quickly with a waiting list established for the fall. The only larger single gender public school in the U.S. is a 1,200-student all-girls school in Baltimore. Since 1996, California has had six small single gender pilot programs, ranging from 60 to 180 students. Most are individual classes or schools within a school. Research indicates that girls do better in single gender math and science classes, but the increased academic focus could be beneficial to boys as well. The goal of the single gender classroom is to focus on academics, reduce distractions and offer parents choices that they want for their daughters and sons. "Single gender instruction has long been available to families who choose parochial or private schools," said Karen DeVries, Area B superintendent. "Those families often report that their children benefit from the single gender academic environment."