Finding the Best Split for Neighborhood K-8 Schools

December 15, 2011 at 10:18 AM 2 comments

Early intervention programs have overloaded K-8 schools. But the model for educating children in neighborhood schools through puberty remains a fine idea. Movement to adjacent schools offering PreK-3 and Grades 4-8 seems like a better idea than going back to the old middle school concept.

The K-8 elementary school model created continuity for children as they evolved from concrete learners to more complex thinkers, keeping their core identities intact as they came of age as young adolescents. The milieu provided a wonderful blend of physical and intellectual growth within the context of a nurturing community of educators, families, and other supporters who knew each child well. However, early intervention programs have front-loaded elementary schools with crucial new programs for younger children who are at-risk for developmental and learning disabilities. The schools are straining under the burden of too many missions.

Some have advocated for a retreat to the middle school model for the upper grades. However, new information suggests that grade six may hold too great of a transition challenge for the children. Indeed, a study from Harvard University found that movement into middle school in grade six had a greater negative impact on student outcomes than the transition to high school in grade nine. The middle years clearly need special attention, but existing models no longer fit.

A win-win for elementary children could be a neighborhood-based solution that splits schools in fourth grade. The buildings could be physically adjacent and continue to share resources such as libraries, playgrounds, cafeterias, and athletic facilities. Still, the smaller learning communities could address the unique needs of divergent age groups. Communication across faculty groups would be facilitated, and the children could continue to benefit from interaction through programs such as mentoring between younger and older students.

A school for grades 4-8 would recognize the movement from basic skill building to applied learning that is most significant in grade four. In addition, it would shift the change in school to an age that is less complicated physically and emotionally. Children could solidify their identities based on emerging intellectual strengths prior to tackling the upheavals with the onset of puberty. By grade six, their introspection and social development could occur in a safer and more familiar place.

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Entry filed under: Design Concepts, Issues and Ideas.

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