As the Head of a school that enrolls four year olds through fourteen year olds, I am often asked “Why do you end in middle school? How does this serve children differently from other school models?” These questions have opened the door to many valuable discussions about the benefits of a school that culminates in 8th Grade. I witness the value of a PreK-8th Grade program in our classrooms and in the interactions between our students, faculty and parents every day, but with all the different educational options available to families, why should you consider sending your child to a PreK (or Kindergarten) through 8th Grade school?
The reasons are academic…
Numerous national studies show the advantages of PK-8 and K-8 schools for students at all grade levels. The foundations for learning are built in lower and middle school.
The continuity of program in an environment where students are well known leads to greater academic success than when students are forced to change schools between elementary and middle school (Martin West, The Middle School Plunge, Education Next, Spring, 2012). The continuity of teachers, classmates, programs and expectations appears to enhance academic, social and emotional development for students leading to greater academic achievement and improved self-esteem and confidence. (The Rand Wonder Years Study)
A 2010 study conducted by researchers at the Columbia Graduate School of Business showed that eighth graders in New York City's kindergarten-8th grade model schools typically scored about seven percentiles higher on state tests than their peers in traditional middle schools. (The Wall Street Journal, 2010)
And equally as important, social…
Children don’t grow up too fast. An elementary and middle school environment allows students to experience age-appropriate activities and events, without the influence and pressure of high school students. Seventh and eighth graders are not “caught in the middle,” but take on the leadership role of "seniors.” At the same time they can be themselves, often remaining “younger” a bit longer and not as directly influenced by the social pressures common in high school. Furthermore, emerging adolescents are given the nurturing and age-appropriate support they need for a healthy, confident transition to their high school years.
The connection between younger and older students builds character and self-esteem. Through intentional buddy programs as well as social interaction that is more organic, personal connections between older and younger children at school help to create role models for younger children while encouraging empathy in older students. These interactions are the backbone of a PreK through 8th Grade community.
A change at ninth grade is healthy. Keeping children in a consistent and familiar educational environment through the elementary and middle school years is ideal, before allowing them the freedom of a change of venue, new friends and new challenges for high school. Through the journey of their elementary and middle school years, students get to know themselves, their specific interests and strengths and can engage meaningfully in the search for the best place to be educated for high school. By ninth grade, students are eager to experience new friendships and challenges that support their individual interests before college, and are well prepared to make a smooth and confident transition into high school.