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Boys Charter School Gets Innovative, Where Movement Happens All Day
Introducing the first school of its kind: an all-boys charter that incorporates constant physical activity to promote wellness and leadership.
In 2017, Denver will open a one-of-a-kind charter school. Modeled after GALS (Girls Athletic Leadership School), the forthcoming Boys’ School will incorporate physical activity throughout the day, making movement a central component of the curriculum for its all-male student population.
We are excited to announce that The Good Men Project is partnering with the Boys’ School to bring you exclusive stories about the impact of the Boys’ School, both on its students and the community.
Our first entry is an interview with Nick Jackson. He has been working at GALS for several years, and is heading up the team preparing to open up the Boys’ School. Check out his inspiring answers below:
- How did you get involved with GALS?
I first learned about GALS when I was attending graduate school in New York City at Columbia University. It was there that I met Nina Safane, the Head of School at GALS. We became close friends, and she convinced me to move across the country (at the time I was teaching in Pennsylvania) to join her in furthering the mission of GALS. This meant that I would be teaching at GALS for a couple years and then opening up the boys version of GALS after that.
- Having worked at GALS, you have seen the benefits that single-sex schools can offer. What do you think the forthcoming Boys’ School will offer young male students, as opposed to a traditional co-ed environment?
Kathleen Palmer Cleveland cites William Pollack in Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School when she discusses “The Boy Code.” It is a “set of culturally embedded expectations about masculinity” (2011, p. 38). The Boy Code tells boys things like “don’t cry, don’t ask for help, don’t hug your friend, and don’t show love.” Cleveland goes on to state: “According to the Code’s expectations, not only are boys supposed to behave like superheroes and hide their emotions, but they also do not want to be perceived as smart, always fight instead of talking through a conflict, and do not enjoy reading or writing…Paramount among the many fears generated by the Code—fear of being different, fear of being rejected by one’s peers, fear of being viewed as weak or a sissy, etc.—is the fear of failure” (p. 40-43).
With all of this in mind, boys need a safe place of their own to learn how to become the man they wish to become. In a mixed classroom with girls, boys will often play victim to the code—acting out as the class clown, acting like they don’t care, and being disruptive. At GALS the girls feel comfortable enough to express themselves and to take academic and social risks, and much of this is due to the fact that there aren’t boys around to make them feel pressured into following any sort of “Girl Code”. The same will be true for our boys with the absence of girls in the classroom. For example, things like reading and writing, which are often seen as feminine to many boys, will no longer be stigmatized as such because there are no girls in the classroom. In our single-gender classrooms, boys will be more positive toward school and feel less pressured to be “cool” by being apathetic toward learning. In our school, boys will be more likely to pursue areas like art, music, and drama. In our school, boys will see empathy and compassion as human qualities instead of feminine qualities. Gender separate classrooms create the freedom to explore beyond the constraint of gender stereotypes, which is especially important during the formative middle school years.
The Boys School will give our boys a place where they feel like they belong—a place where they can experience true camaraderie and brotherhood, which are essential to a boy’s motivation and engagement in school and in life. Cleveland states: “The fear of not belonging, and the accompanying anxiety of being different or of being labeled gay or a sissy, is so strong that in and of itself it can, and often does, seriously compromise a boy’s ability to function in school. Belonging, in fact, is so important that some boys will do almost anything, endure almost anything, and inflict on one another almost anything in order to be ‘part of the group’ (p. 41-42). The single-gender school provides a setting where all of our boys will feel this sense of belonging, and it will be fostered daily by our teachers and leaders.
- Has this approach – incorporating physical activity throughout the day – been tried before with boys?
Yes, incorporating physical activity throughout the day has been tried before with boys – it’s called childhood. Schools shouldn’t take this away from boys, but instead they should utilize and capitalize on this natural need for boys to move in a way that enhances their learning. In the formal setting of a school, I am not aware of any all-boys schools that focus on movement and physical activity in the way that we do. There are schools that are more like sports academies that are basically DI training grounds, but we are definitely not that. We are a school that promotes movement for all shapes and sizes. We believe that every child can be an athlete, meaning that all children can find a movement or physical activity that works for them, resulting in improved confidence and better overall health and well-being. We understand that the mind and body are closely connected and that both need to be nurtured in school.
- Could you give us an overview of the research supporting this type of learning structure? It seems self-evident, but there are those of us who crave that data proof (I’m guilty).
The Boys School understands that the adolescent brain doesn’t truly wake up until around 10:00am (Knapton, 2014). This is why we kick-start our boys’ brains and bodies every morning with a 40-minute movement class (running, yoga, circuit training, team sports). Furthermore, movement is actively and intentionally incorporated into each and every lesson. Whether it’s purposefully infused into the lesson to help the brain remember better, or whether it’s simply a brain break, movement is used to keep students engaged in their learning. “Regularly-scheduled movement breaks throughout the day and movement used within and between lessons results in better-behaved, more engaged students who can more easily focus on and retain what they are supposed to be learning” (The Creativity Post).
Boys benefit from movement-infused education. As stated on the NASSP website, “Males are mesmerized by movement, and when adolescent testosterone is thrown into the mix, they feel they have to move. Yet boys and girls are asked to sit still most of the school day. As Marilee Sprenger points out in her book Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age (2010, p. 21-22), physical movement promotes learning for all students in the following ways:
- Improves attention and motivation by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine
- Creates positive moods, lowers anxiety, raises self-esteem
- Causes stem cells in brain to divide, making new brain cells
- Decreases impulsivity
- Adds new cells to the hippocampus (the memory control area)
- Adds to the “chemical soup” that promotes growth and survival of neurons.
Teachers need to add movement to learning through activities such as: creative dramatics; physical review games; pantomimes of historical events; film making; demonstrations; projects that produce something concrete; puppet shows; having students physically model scientific events, such as two neurons sharing information; video broadcasts and game shows, singing, dancing, graphics and art renditions of work, how-to demos, etc. Give students opportunities to think creatively while getting up and involved.”
Movement is our backbone, but movement is not simply defined as physical at The Boys School. Yes, movement is definitely athletic/physical movement (games, sports), but it is also social movement (new friendships, social action projects), emotional movement (mindfulness, self-awareness), academic movement (improving reading scores, learning new things), and creative movement (self-expression, expanding skills). In an era where there is an overall lack of education on what makes a healthy lifestyle because it doesn’t fit into the core courses, we will be teaching life-long healthy living styles. We must redefine what movement is at The Boys School in order to redefine what masculinity means in today’s world. In this way, all boys at our school will be able to stand alongside one another as equals. The star football player will be able to stand next to the star of the school musical with pride and admiration for one another. This is the world of The Boys School.
- Discussions about Education often occur in the abstract realm. But I think most of us crave more the personal connection. Is there a story of an individual student who found GALS transformational, or a really profound whole class moment, that you could share?
I think stories that come straight from the girls are much more powerful. Here’s what some of my 6th grade students had to say:
- “GALS means home to me. It is a place where you can be yourself without the fear of being judged. I don’t dread going to school. I love it because it’s home.”
- “GALS means I have a voice and I can use it. GALS means taking good care of your body, your mind, and your heart.”
- “GALS is an important place for me because everyone at GALS has each other’s back. And our voice is heard. People love me for who I am.”
- “What GALS has meant to me is a place where I can be myself and not be judged for who I am. GALS is my second home.”
- “GALS always pushes you because they know you can do it. They know you’re actually going somewhere in life.”
- GALS means family – a big family.”
- “Unlike other schools, GALS will show you what you feel. GALS will let you celebrate when you accomplish something.”
- “GALS is so much better. There is no tolerance for bullying. I don’t get made fun of for having short hair.”
- “To me, GALS means freedom. GALS means family. GALS means reality.”
- “GALS taught me to be confident in my own skin. My old school made who I am as a person look bad. GALS embraces my weirdness and brings out the best in me. At GALS I am who I want to be and I can shine as brightly as I want to.”
- “Unlike other schools you can share your ideas and not be afraid of what other people think.”
- “GALS is a place where anyone and everyone can feel free to be weird. Although I always showed my weird weirdness, I used to be much more defensive. GALS cracked my shell.”
- “The teachers and other students make me feel important and wanted. We are just one big family.”
- “GALS is an environment where I’m not afraid to be who I am, and a place where I can stand up for what I believe in, and nobody thinks I’m less than.”
- “GALS is like a second home for me. Every morning I wake up excited to go to school, for I know GALS is a safe place. There is always a good vibe about and smiles are always spread across both students’ and teachers’ faces.”
- “It’s funny; I’ve always wanted a sister, and now I have 300 of the best sisters I could ever ask for.”
- Is there a certain type of student the Boys School is specifically targeting? Or do you think this approach would benefit everyone?
Above all else, The Boys School plans to serve boys. This includes boys of all backgrounds, races/ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, and academic histories and abilities. We believe that boys in the Denver community, and indeed the nation, are being given a disservice. Many boys don’t know who they are, don’t know what it means to be a man, and don’t have any idea how to realize their untapped potential. We will give these boys a community – a family. We will give these boys a school they can get behind and believe in. We will give these boys a much needed home where boys of all shapes and sizes can stand next to one another and call each other “brother.” The world needs more men who are willing to bravely stand up and be themselves for their friends, their families, and their communities.
- If someone is interested in implementing this program, where can they find information? Who should they contact?
More information about GALS can be found at www.galschools.org. Any questions or inquiries about The Boys School can be directed to Nick Jackson, Head of School. I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.