Third Grade on the Line

February 22, 2012 at 11:23 AM 1 comment

There seems to be little argument about 3rd grade as a benchmark year for children. Basic reading and numeracy skills acquired by the end of the 3rd grade are essential to their success in school, perhaps even life. If this is such an important milestone, why not reorganize schools and appoint leaders accountable exclusively for grades PreK-3?

Have you ever had a small child look up at you in genuine fear reporting back from an abandoned trip to the bathroom? “There are big kids in there.” They are terrified. K-8 schools make sense in some ways, but the age and size spreads can be daunting. Never mind the cognitive and emotional rollercoasters faced along the way. The search for connectivity from the first day of school through puberty is a noble one. So is the child’s need for belonging within the local community of family and friends. But these exigencies can be met without diffusing responsibility for the academic benchmarks to be achieved or unique psychosocial needs.

Historically, the movements from junior high (7-9) to middle school (6-8) to elementary school (K-8) have been driven by the needs of early adolescents. However, the youngest members of the school have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. Placement of fragile, security-oriented children on a collision course with the largest and most narcissistic cohort can overwhelm them and obscure their needs.

Children between prekindergarten and 3rd grade make the transition across two stages of development and acquire the skill necessary to move from play-based learning to the milieu of applied academic industry. That is enough for one school team to accomplish. In fact, the work done in the early elementary years is so crucial to future achievement that researchers are beginning to tie failure to meet these benchmarks as hallmarks of failure to finish high school and loss of access to successful  careers in adulthood. Clearly, a strong case could be made for a PreK-3 school where children had the advantage of a focus on their specific needs and educators had exclusive responsibility for bringing all the children to a single level of competency.

Optimally, neighborhood schools for PreK-3 and 4-8 could be in sight of one another and share many services, such as food and transportation. Combined school communities are better able to underwrite shared facilities for the arts, technology, or physical education. In addition, elementary school children benefit from sheltered contact across grade levels. Smaller children enjoy mentoring by the older children. Young adolescents profit from learning about child growth and development as a context for their own maturation processes as well as training to assume childcare responsibility as babysitters. But they still need their own small learning communities.

(Prior post…Finding the Best Split for K-8 Elementary Schools)


Entry filed under: School Transformation, Student Outcomes. Tags: .

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