ALTON -- An Alton parochial middle school's experiment to mostly segregate classes by sex last semester got high marks, and the practice continues this school year, its principal says.
"We're still doing it; we've gotten good feedback, and the faculty all likes it," said Judy Kulp, assistant principal at St. Mary's Middle School, 1015 Milton Road in Alton.
"In some classes, it helps the young people," Kulp said. "At that age, they can be too inhibited to ask questions, and in some classes, they may not be apt to ask questions," such as religion and biology.
"I think the girls are more open to it than the boys," she said.
Boys and girls in all three grades, sixth through eighth, are separated in religion, social studies, science, literature, physical education and art classes, but are together in math and English, where they are grouped by academic level.
Kulp said separating the students also has helped reduce distractions, thereby improving academics, which was the idea behind implementing the pilot program in the second semester of the previous school year.
"We are going to continue to do this as long as our numbers still work," Kulp said, meaning having a close balance between the numbers of boys and girls in the student population.
She said there are about 115 students at the school, down from 130 last year, but attributes the dip more to the economy than the segregation.
"No one coming from fifth grade into sixth grade said it was a deterring factor," she said.
Because all but the new students already spent at least one semester in a segregated setting, the division now is "normal" for St. Mary's, she said.
"It's what they expect; it's normal," she said.
As a first step, during the 2010-2011 school year, the school had segregated sixth-graders before going school-wide in the second semester of the 2011-2012 year.
Kulp said in February that the faculty was involved in the decision to involve all three grades of the school in the sex segregation. Kulp and teachers from St. Mary's had visited Chaminade College Preparatory School in West St. Louis County, Mo., to see firsthand a boys-only school, which has sixth grade through high school.
Once implemented last winter, administrators and teachers were to monitor how well the program was working.
At that time, a spokeswoman from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said she was not aware of any other parochial schools in the diocese that were segregating students by gender.