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Spritzler launches "Lord of the Flies School for Boys"

Formerly called the Vince Lombardi Institute, Headmaster T Snitz Esq think that the message of Charles Darwin has been lost on this "generation of coddled crybabies".

Inside the Schools Where Boys Can Be Boys

All-male middle schools show what boys need to develop skills—and these lessons would work in coed schools, too

By Julie Jargon, WSJ

Updated Dec. 16, 2023

Boys are struggling in middle school, stuck in an academic setting that they say rewards them for sitting still and taking notes—in other words, behaving more like girls.

“It’s really hard sitting still for eight hours a day,” says Tyler Brausa, now 16. When he jumped from elementary school to middle school, the lack of recess and daily gym was a jolt. Tyler often got in trouble for talking out of turn and fidgeting at his desk. After school, he and his friends escaped into videogames—a realm where they have purpose and work together toward a shared goal.

School could compete with gaming if it felt more rewarding to boys, he says.

Field Middle School allows students to use iPads for some classwork, but the devices can’t be used during passing periods or lunch. From left to right: Thomas Wongsmith, Izayah Keller-Coleman, Spencer Handelman and Nathaniel Tseng.

Some of them are. A number of all-boys middle schools—public, charter and private—have begun opening in recent years to meet boys’ needs. Inside the walls of these schools, boys get lots of hands-on learning, frequent breaks and plenty of movement. Some coed schools are also addressing the problem, dividing up boys and girls for certain classes. And they’re having success.

“Instead of making guys change the way we behave,” Tyler says, “maybe schools should change the way they’re structured.”

‘Bumping into things’

At the private, boys-only Field Middle School in the San Francisco Bay Area, which opened two years ago, students start some days sitting in a circle. The school’s 46 students, in grades six through eight, talk about what they’re grateful for and acknowledge mistakes they’ve made.

On other days, they begin by reviewing assignments, cleaning out backpacks and checking they have supplies such as sharpened pencils. Organization and time management don’t come easily to all adolescent boys, as I covered last week.

“Boys tend to learn by bumping into things,” says Jason Baeten, Field’s head of school. Dance classes held in the courtyard aren’t judged for grace and form. “That’s not always a metaphor—sometimes they’re too big for their bodies.”

The boys at Field begin some mornings with meditation and other mindfulness activities.

At Field, 80% of the teachers are male. Overall numbers of male teachers in K-12 education have been falling nationwide, according to Richard Reeves, president of the nonpartisan nonprofit American Institute for Boys and Men.

The administrators know how distracting technology can be to kids. Every morning the students turn in their phones and smartwatches to the front office for the day. They use iPads for some assignments in class but they aren’t in constant use.

Giving boys a chance to move around and work with their hands is a big focus at Field and other all-boys schools. The students get a 20-minute morning snack break, a 45-minute lunch period and PE three to five days a week. One classroom has standing desks.

The school has a class in which kids design products to solve problems or help people. One boy developed sugar-free recipes so his diabetic brother could enjoy dessert. The school also offers a build class; last year the boys built go-karts. On Mondays, the students cook lunch for each other and the staff. They regularly vacuum and sweep the classrooms.

Hands-on activities are emphasized at Field Middle School, where boys cook lunch for each other and staff every Monday.

‘Motivated by competition’

Field is too new to have high-school graduation success rates. But the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, a public all-boys school for grades six through 12, has proven results. The Dallas school, open since 2011, has a 91% graduation rate; the same percentage of students score proficient on reading, compared with the district average of 52%, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“The biggest reason our students do well is we have a committed staff. The brothers, as we call our students, know we care about them,” says Rashad Jackson, principal of the school, which has 541 boys. “It’s not just about A’s and B’s, we’re invested in their social-emotional well-being.”

The boys at the Obama Academy, as well as the students at Dallas’s two other public all-boys schools, have opportunities to get out their wiggles throughout the day. (The district also has three all-girls’ schools.)

The boys at Field have to turn in their phones and smartwatches to the front office before school.

At Dallas’s pre-K through-eighth-grade Solar Preparatory School for Boys, students rotate through a different learning station every 15 minutes because brain science shows boys need frequent movement, says principal Derek Thomas.

Timers buzz to indicate when students need to switch to the next task.

“When you put a timer on something, it becomes a competition, and boys are motivated by competition,” he says. “If I tell them to work on organizing their binder and I give them two minutes, they’ll do it in one minute 30 seconds.”

‘The boys have voices’

These educators say middle-school boys feel freer to make and learn from mistakes when girls aren’t around.

That’s something administrators at Treasure Valley Classical Academy, a coed charter school in Fruitland, Idaho, also noticed. When middle-school boys and girls are together in PE class, the boys try to impress the girls, and the girls don’t participate as much, says school founder Stephen Lambert.

Field focuses on teaching boys the way boys learn best. Research shows that boys focus better in class when they have ample opportunities to move around during the school day.

The 580-student school, which serves kindergarten through 10th grade, began separating girls and boys in some PE classes two years ago. The girls became more engaged and competitive and the boys more focused, teachers said.

The school did the same for some music and art classes. When together, girls tend to out-sing the boys, Lambert says. “The boys’ voices are cracking and they’re embarrassed and self-conscious and they won’t sing,” he adds. “When you split them up, you realize the boys have voices and they want to make them heard.”

All students get plenty of time to move, with recess for all kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, and an extended hangout time after lunch for the high-school students.

Leonard Sax is a family doctor who has studied more than 500 schools over the past 20 years, and wrote several books on gender differences. He says that any school could replicate these approaches without being disruptive—or discriminatory.

“Schools can be friendly to boys without being unfriendly to girls,” he says.

Field’s head of school says boys learn by bumping into things. Here, teacher Nicholas Hardy leads sixth-graders in a huddle.

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