Gender Plays a Much Bigger Role Than You Might Expect


Bill Ellis is the Associate Headmaster for Enrollment and Financial Aid at The Kiski School, appointed in 2008.  Educated at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bill has been in various admissions roles within private education since 1982.  He currently sits on the boards of multiple associations, while serving as a counselor, adviser, and community member here at Kiski.
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Plenty has been written about the crisis that many boys are facing in the educational classroom.  Statistics show that boys are faring poorly in  big schools with large, lecture-based classrooms.  Trends are showing that girls are achieving higher levels of education, in  decidedly sought out fields (medical, law, education) more so than their male counterparts.  There are also more girls attending college to obtain their undergraduate degrees.  This is not a new trend.  I attended the last majority male class at Chapel Hill in 1982 and ever since, it has been majority female.  Find more statistics here:   http://bit.ly/1qX7iA4.

The true biological difference between the two genders is noticed at the critical age when high school begins and the achievement clock starts for competitive colleges.  The young girls carry themselves as young women compared to the young boys who look like and act like young boys.  According to  research from multiple resources, the male brain is not fully formed until  25 years of age.  And further, the last thing to mature is the frontal lobe which controls decision making.  When in a moment of frustration you ask boys “Why did you do that?” and their answer is “I don’t know.  I guess I wasn’t thinking.”  That is actually a pretty good answer.  The neurological truth is he is not mature enough to make good decisions yet.  Is it any wonder rental car companies do not  rent  cars to 24 year olds?

We are not against the advancement of women, we are instead concerned about the fate of young men in a system that does not nurture their learning, social, and mental needs.  The fact is that the girls at co-ed schools are winning all of the academic prizes, the leadership positions, are the least penalized by the discipline systems and most likely to be admitted to the  competitive colleges at the end of their experience. 

So what do you do about that?  Kiski has the answer.  First, recognize that there is a problem.  Whatever the reason is; teaching methods, equal opportunities, brain development, boys are not achieving as a group at the same level of the girls. Secondly, understand what to do and be willing to do it.   A lot of schools can agree  there is a problem, some may even agree about what to do, but not many of them are willing to go the lengths that Kiski does to solve it.

Kiski’s strategy is to use boy-centric teaching methods appealing to boys desires for competition, engagement, team work, and hands-on learning, according to documented best practices.  For a primer on this topic, I recommend you read Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys by Richard Hawley and Michael Reichert.  This book is a compilation of the best teaching practices used by boys’ schools worldwide.   In the foreword, the authors explain that they did a yearlong audit of Kiski and as a result of that work; Kiski was one of the two schools that inspired the authors to write their book.

In general, we take advantage of dramatic points of entry, immediate activity, engaging the boys from the start of class.  We use surprise. You never know what is going to happen next, so you are always on the edge of your seat.  Our classrooms employ competition, making the lessons resemble competitive sports, where the boys are completely engaged in their activity physically and mentally.  Boys want to keep score and beat their classmates.  Boys like to be on teams so we do lots of collaborative activities.  Small groups of boys work together accomplishing a task and often times in competition with other small groups in the classroom.   In short, many of our lessons follow the same format, boys are on teams, performing a task, competing with each other, keeping score and what do you know, mastering the concept. 

Project-based learning takes over our classrooms when we create tasks for the boys to perform, which when done properly will teach them the lesson for the day.  Boys do not like to “sit and get.”  They want to do something, to touch it, to build it, to destroy it.  So our classes are loud and active.  Our boys are not sitting at a desk listening to a teacher drone on about what they know (teacher centric) but rather are doing hands on projects that are requiring the boys to think creatively, solve problems and work as a member of a team (student centric).  What they may get out of the lesson that day is that they won the contest, but what they retain by being totally engaged in the learning process is remarkable.  And the best thing is that they love being in those classes and can’t wait to get there the next day.  They are thriving in this environment.   They tell me all the time “I can’t wait to get to Mr. So and So’s class because today we are going to…..”  Or, “I love Mrs. So and So’s class becauseshe always….”

We work hard keeping our teachers engaged in this type of teaching.  We train  them how to teach this way as it is not something that they come to us knowing how to do.  Large schools have trouble replicating this experience.  Our small school, all-male environment allows for an intimate, inclusive space for all learners to be engaged.

If you really want to see something special, come for a visit and see for yourself and hear from our students why the boarding school life is so great.
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1888 Brett Lane, Saltsburg, PA 15681   |   (877) 547-5448
Established in 1888, The Kiski School is one of the oldest, private, all-boys, college preparatory boarding schools in Pennsylvania and the United States.  Home to 200 boys, Kiski offers an academically rigorous curriculum that includes AP and Honors courses, 12 varsity sports, and a community that allows boys to thrive through project-based learning and self-discovery.
Kiski's beautiful, 350-acre campus is located in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, PA.