This article originally ran in Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine in Dec. 2020.
Middle School seems miles away when you are looking for school for your pre-kindergarten or kindergarten child. And if you have a student entering sixth grade, does it really matter if his school includes an elementary or high school program?
Actually, it does.
The grade levels a school includes can influence the experiences students have when enrolled there. A school that includes elementary and middle grades – also known as a K-8 model – offers advantages to students socially and academically over a school that stops at fifth grade or includes high school students.
Here are 5 reasons parents should consider a K-8 school.
Research supports it: A school where eighth graders are the oldest gives middle school students the chance to be "top dogs" at a time in their lives when they are especially vulnerable, according to a 2016 study in the American Educational Research Journal.
At a school that starts with sixth grade, however, middle school-aged students sit at the bottom of the pecking order. Shifting from "top dog" status in fifth grade to the bottom rung as a sixth grader may contribute to academic declines in middle school, already a difficult time for students due to hormonal changes and peer pressures.
Students who attend schools that encompass kindergarten through 8th grade — such as Corbett Prep, which starts in PreK3 — have more chances to be "top dogs." That privilege translates into a better experience socially and academically for students. Overall, "top dogs" felt safer at school, reported fewer disciplinary instances, and benefited from increased academic achievement.
The benefits even extend to new students who transferred into a K-8 school during their middle school years.
Leaders emerge: As the oldest at their school, middle school students act as role models for their younger classmates. Corbett Prep hosts special Middle School retreats and overnight trips to help sixth through eighth graders learn leadership skills, discover their personal strengths and work together as teams. Middle School students can serve as ambassadors to school guests, giving tours and answering questions about Corbett Prep. They plan community service efforts or school spirit days and learn to advocate to the administration when they want changes, such as adding refillable water bottle stations to campus or establishing an eSports league.
When Middle School students partner with their younger buddies in elementary school at schoolwide events or in their classes, everyone benefits. At Corbett Prep elementary students also have opportunities to participate in certain sports or performances alongside the Middle School kids. The friendships formed build community, while preparing younger students to step in as mentors one day.
It makes transitions smooth: Once a year, Corbett Prep fifth graders cross the street to spend a day at the Middle School and learn what life will be like as sixth graders. But by the time they go, many are already familiar with the building, faculty and students. Corbett Prep's student-centered community develops over an 11-year span, emphasizing caring and belonging. Faculty and staff collaborate across grade levels and get to know students well, and teachers meet in the summer to learn from colleagues about the incoming class.
In eighth grade, teachers help each student find their best fit for high school. Having had years of support to discover their strengths and passions, Corbett Prep graduates attend a wide variety of high schools based on their interests – magnet arts or science programs, International Baccalaureate schools, religious education, rigorous private high schools.
Volunteering is easy: The elementary and middle school model also encourages parents to stay active in their children's education. A key indicator of student success, parent involvement remains steady through the middle grade years in K-8 schools, while engagement tends to drop off after students graduate from K-5 elementary schools. At a K-8 school, middle school parents are comfortable volunteering and have had years of positive community experiences and connections. They also may have younger children at the school, motivating them to stay involved.
It benefits kids socially and academically: Middle school can be a tough adjustment for kids used to the warm cocoon of elementary school. But it doesn't have to be.
Small class sizes, familiar settings, leadership opportunities and an uninterrupted continuum of support help students thrive in K-8 schools, make them feel safe and contribute to a consistently positive environment.
Academically, students from K-8 schools demonstrated a higher GPA in 9th grade. Test scores may improve as well. SAT scores in reading, math, and science are significantly stronger in K-8 schools than in the traditional 6-8 environment, according to a study done by Dr. Robert Offenberg, a researcher for the Philadelphia school district. Students from K-8 schools were 11 percent more likely to be enrolled in selective high school programs.
When looking for a school for your child, remember to think beyond the grade they are entering and consider the school as a whole. A school dedicated just to elementary and middle school grades provides families with a caring and supportive community while balancing challenging academics. It may be just what your family needs.