Chances are if you were forced to choose between having a child who found learning to come easily or having a child who had an admirable character, you would choose the latter. At least that is what research says. The extraordinary truth is that you don’t have to make that choice, and perhaps no model facilitates the marriage of skills and character as well as schools that combine elementary and middle grades.
Schools that end in eighth grade may give you pause. You will, out of necessity, go through the school search, and when you look for a high school, you have other variables to contend with—your child’s profile as a learner and his/her personal analysis of what school characteristics matter most. And that is the point.
Schools such as ours have lots of advantages:
- They are not driven by a single model of high school. Instead, they prepare students to have many choices and to thrive in a variety of settings.
- They encourage young adolescents to be leaders and role models, not simply aspiring high-school students. Each of our middle school students has an opportunity to be a cross-graded partner with a younger child and to learn how to nurture, and be looked up to by others. They lead community service, diversity, sustainability, and other school initiatives.
- They prolong the enchanting period of childhood a bit longer, as older students are not proximally influential.
- They encourage parents to be active partners in the community, more typical of schools that educate pre-high school children.
- Fewer grades means a smaller, more intimate community where more students and adults all know each other and build robust and satisfying relationships.
- Specialist teachers teach across the grades providing continuity and stability, and really knowing each child. The kindergarten music teacher may teach a middle school elective. The physical education teacher can be a Capstone mentor.
- Risk-taking and experimenting with new arts electives, projects, partnerships, activities, and athletics are encouraged without older children’s judgment to contend with.
- In any school, the oldest students are the most expensive and enjoy the most resources and attention—in our case that is our eighth graders.
- The important transition from middle to high school is marked with a developmentally appropriate milestone.
- Children know how to tend to relationships while they are together, and then commit to them when they are in different schools. Attendance at reunions, panels, and spirited special athletics events is important as a way to connect with each other and their former school.
But, ultimately, it is the high school search, a process that may not initially be welcome, that is an extraordinary opportunity. It provides your child the possibility of building new and extended friendships, of reinvention and a fresh start, of analyzing who he/she is as a learner and what is most important to support that profile, and to participate in valuable skills like interviewing. Together, as you make the decision— public, independent, boarding, single-sex, neighborhood, athletic powerhouse, strong performing arts program, fencing, terms abroad, AP courses, excellent writing support—you develop an irreplaceable bond, where you work together as a team to figure out optimal next educational steps.
So come, take a look. Talk to our teachers, who are devoted to the developmental needs of their students, and to our students, who beautifully articulate why this structure works so well for them. Come meet a community of adults and children who love coming to school. And see how joy, caring, excellence, respect, honesty, and responsibility are universal values that provide sturdy foundations for your unique child.