Fifth Graders Find Ways to Improve Community

PEYTON, Colo. – While elementary school students in Colorado Springs entered a classroom May 1, several fifth grade girls separated them by gender.

“Boys on the left, girls on the right,” they said, pointing to gender signs on the walls of the classroom at Evans International Elementary School in Falcon School District 49. An upcoming discussion would cover the pros and cons of single-sex schools.

“I’m interested in hearing what they have to say,” said Sean Dorsey, Sand Creek Zone innovation leader, entering the room. “I want to see what they’ve accumulated and see what we can use as we plan our zones.”

Dorsey wasn’t referring to research by teachers or administrators. Fifth graders Antanaysiah Green, Ashley Mingee, Lily Bean and Brittney Jimeson chose the topic to investigate, created the slideshow of their findings, and now they’d present it.

For 20 minutes, the 11-year-olds cited scientific studies, student achievement comparisons and community and educator perceptions. They responded to peer questions, such as “What do you think about it?” and “Would you go to a single-sex school?”

At the end, the fifth graders passed around a petition to encourage district leadership to experiment with single-sex classrooms. Next school year, they’ll attend middle school, where their research suggests the most benefits.

Greg Moles, principal at nearby Horizon Middle School, asked for opinions.

“We hated the idea at first,” said Green, “but as we researched it more, our answers started changing. I think it’d be good for me. I’m shy around boys.”

“I’m more comfortable with boys,” said Bean, “I don’t like all the drama with girls.”

The school’s fifth graders, roughly 110 students, had formed 30 interest groups to explore community issues. Each group hosted three rotations, presenting their culminating project for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, designed for ages 3 to 12.

Jenny Breeding, International Baccalaureate PYP coordinator, said everyone described how they exercised the program’s five transdisciplinary skills: research, communications, self-management, thinking and social.

Fifth graders Jacob Calhoun, Ryan Wicklund, Jevin Bush and Logan Buzbee reflected on nuclear power. They explained the production of massive amounts of energy with low greenhouse gas emissions, and the potential for deadly radiation leaks and meltdowns.

Buzbee says he’s now comfortable with remaining undecided about the use of nuclear power, and motivated to learn more.

“I believe in the IB program,” said Stacey Buzbee, watching her 11-year-old son, Logan Buzbee, complete four months of studying nuclear power. “It makes the kids think. They’re constantly using their brains for problem solving… asking ‘why?’”

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