Head of School Susanne Johnson shares information about educational, parenting, and child development issues.
The Benefits of the Preschool Through 8th Grade Model -- Why Loving Your School Means You Eventually Need to Find a Different One
There isn’t a year that goes by that we are not begged by our families to consider expanding to include a high school. I heard from one parent recently, “If only my child could stay here through 12th grade, all would be perfect. We hate the thought of having to leave this community that is like a second family to us.”
So why is it that our strategic plan doesn’t include utilizing our vast acreage for expansion to support our families for four more years?
While we are also pained to say “so long” to our graduates after 8th grade, our 3-year-old through 8th grade model is intentional. We believe it best serves our mission and our students. That also means we believe our students are best served by moving on after 8th grade.
Many independent private schools follow the preschool-8th grade model, and those that do go through twelfth grade often have a separate and distinct campus for high school. While most public schools separate elementary and middle school students, some are moving to a K-8th grade structure because research shows students benefit, especially in 6th and 7th grades. This age is a notoriously difficult time for adolescents. Recent research published in the American Educational Research Journal, titled “Do Top Dogs Rule in Middle School? Evidence on Bullying, Safety, and Belonging,” discusses the social and academic benefits of middle school-aged students being the “big kids” on campus.
It is pretty clear that students do not benefit by starting at a new school for 6th grade where they are the “little” kids, but why end at 8th grade? Here are a few of the advantages that I recently highlighted to comfort one concerned parent:
- Candidly, the preschool through 8th grade model fosters an environment where young adolescents can enjoy childhood a bit longer. Middle School students have the opportunity to interact with older siblings and friends in other settings as they develop into teenagers. But when they are on our campus, they can still swing on swings and play games at recess--and they do.
- Our commitment to small class sizes and fewer grades allows us to have a community of dedicated and deeply caring educational professionals where each child is known very well by everyone within the school community. We believe this helps each student thrive as an individual.
- In this kind of close-knit community, we can be completely comfortable encouraging students to take risks and experiment in a safe, nurturing environment.
- Our Middle School students are the leaders and role models for our younger students. Through our “buddy” program, they are cross-grade partners leading school-wide community service, diversity, and sustainability initiatives. They are truly looked up to by the younger students and take that responsibility seriously.
As hard as it is to part with students after 8th grade, we recognize that it is a developmentally appropriate milestone, and our students are ready to move on for the next step in their education. We work with them and their families on the high school selection and placement process and always welcome our alumni back to celebrate their continued success!
-- Susanne Johnson, Head of School, Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences
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