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Student success at same-gender schools

“Brings out their true identity"
Posted at 5:39 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 18:28:01-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBWO — The Buffalo Public School District says it wants to end racial and gender-based inequalities and boost academic achievement by creating single-gender schools.

The district says it is making plans to create an all-girls school for students in grades 5 through 12 and an all-boys school for 7th to 12th grade.

District leaders point to success stories surrounding the single-gender model, including a New York City public school with a 95-percent graduation rate.

7 News Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley explores how two single-gender schools in Buffalo are already helping students succeed.

“In my previous school, when the boys where in my class — it was more — more loud,” reflected Iyana Oneal.

Iyana Oneal, eighth grader at St. Monica's.

Oneal is an eighth grader at St. Monica's in Buffalo's East Delavan neighborhood, an all-girls school for 5th through 8th grade.

It is one of two NativityMiguel Middle Schools in the city.

The other is the all boys school, St. Augustine. This particular concept was started by a Jesuit priest in New York City. The middle schools are faith-based helping underserved students.

St. Monica Middle School

The same-gender schools are designed to help inner-city students achieve academic success.

Oneal came from a Buffalo Public School to attend St. Monica's and tells me without boys in her classes, she feels more empowered.

“I prefer the all girls — it's less, less stress, less pressure, less chaos — less all of that,” declared Oneal.

“So, when you go to an all-girls school, I just like how it is. How calm it is. How everybody gets each other,” explained Oneal.

“They all just gel,” replied Marilyn Solomon-Ward, lead teacher.

Solomon-Ward speaks from experience.

Marilyn Solomon-Ward, lead teacher.

Before coming to St. Monica’s campus to teach, she previously taught at co-ed schools. Solomon-Ward says her students thrive in same-gender environments both socially and academically.

“Brings out their true identity. They're not afraid to express themselves. They don't have to worry about what the other gender maybe says because they are not afraid, so that's a good thing for them,” Solomon-Ward said.

Inside St. Monica classroom.

The St. Monica's teacher says the all girls' campus allows the students to be their true selves and achieve very high academics without other distractions.

“Boys are more energized. They want rough — rough around — rough house — play around a lot,” Joshua Huffman, teacher.

Blocks away, at St. Augustine in the bailey avenue neighborhood, 5th through 8th grade students attend the all boys school and in reverse, the boys don't have the distraction of the girls.

Joshua Huffman, teacher.

“So, if you got girls around, they kind of might get distracted and want to prove themselves and who's the best, who's got best dress, who's got best hair cut — maybe stuff like that,” remarked Huffman.

Huffman is also a 2011 graduate of St. Augustine’s. He says he truly believes same-gender schools can help students, especially from single parent homes succeed in the classroom.

St. Augustine classroom.

“It was something that was well needed for me, growing up in a single parent household with just my mother. I didn't have the attention. I didn't get that attention that every child really needs,” declared Huffman.

Oneal agrees. She lives with her dad and has no siblings, so the school is providing her with a “sisterhood.”

“It’s like nice to come here and I can talk to them about things I probably couldn't talk to my dad about,” Oneal said.

St. Monica classroom.

Oneal is also planning to attend Buffalo Seminary in the fall for high school, an all-girls school.

But Oneal says she expects to go co-ed for college.

“I tell myself — you have to know how to deal with all sexes — so eventually I will have to deal with men,” responded Oneal.

Huffman said the all boys school provided male role models lacking in his childhood.

St. Augustine campus.

"This was the first place where my teachers — I ran into male teachers, so another school I was at — it was always a female teacher teaching me,” recalled Huffman.

Huffman continued in same-gender education for high school, attending Canisius High School. He then attended the University of Maine where he played football.

Huffman says he thinks it is a great idea that the city school district is considering the creation of some single gender schools to help bolster student achievement.

Inside St. Augustine classroom.

Buffalo Schools Associated Superintendent Dr. Fatima Morrell tells 7 News there is still much work ahead to create the schools, including community forums, proposed sites and student recruitment.

But she says they don't expect to have specific criteria for students who want to attend.

“We will not have criteria that puts a limit on any young man or young woman that wants to come into our school. And we will readily accept our students without all of those criteria, in fact, we want students who may have struggled in their current educational setting,” explained Morrell.

Morrell says there would be no grade requirement, but students must be Buffalo residents to attend. The district says it is hoping to open the schools possibly in January or the fall of 2023.