HEAD OF SCHOOL MESSAGE: SEVENTH AND EIGHTH GRADERS AS UPPER SCHOOLERS
By Troy McIntosh, Head of School
As you probably know, next year Worthington Christian School will be transitioning to two campuses, a lower school housing Kindergarten through sixth grade, and an upper school housing grades seven to 12. One of the most frequent questions we receive about the transition is how the seventh and eighth-graders will be integrated into the upper school. Will they be separated from ninth-12thgraders in their own hallways, lunch periods, etc.? Clearly, these questions stem from a concern about the difference in ages between what had traditionally been middle schoolers and high schoolers and whether this will lead to negative or harmful interactions between these two groups of students.
In fact, we spent a lot of time looking at this issue, delving into research and learning from other schools who have grades seven through 12 in the same building. What we learned is that we expect the opposite to occur; that is, we are expecting an increasingly positive environment to form because of these six grades being housed together. Although there will be a natural separation in most classes among the grades (English 7 will be comprised of seventh-graders and English 11 will be comprised of juniors), there will be mixing of students across all grade levels during the day as they pass in the hallways, use the library, or eat lunch. Here are some of the reasons we view this as a positive thing:
- Research suggests that bullying takes place less frequently and sense of belonging increases in schools that have a larger grade span (such as seven through 12) than in schools that have a narrower grade span (such as six to eight or nine to 12). As one study reports, “They found that even after controlling for students’ background characteristics, class sizes, and school types, 6th grade students at K-8 and 6-12 schools were less likely to report bullying . . . and more likely to report feeling safe and welcome at school and that they participate in school activities more than did 6th grade students at 6-8 schools. As the chart below shows, the fewer the grade levels below the “top dog” grade in a school, the bigger the gap between students in the top grade and bottom grade on the school pecking order when it came to bullying . . . and whether students felt safe, welcome, and known at school.”
- In our own conversations with schools that have seventh and eighth grades mixed with ninth through 12th graders, they affirmed that their experiences matched the research. Multiple private schools in Ohio reported to us that it is just not an issue for them to have older students initiating negative interactions with the younger students. In fact, they were able to use their proximity to leverage positive relationships between them that benefitted both groups. We plan to do the same.
- Our room assignments for seventh and eighth-grade classes are intentionally being bunched together to minimize the movement throughout the building that students in those grades will need to experience.
- By being in the same building, it offers more flexibility and accessibility to class offerings that otherwise would not have been available to seventh and eighth graders.
- Department faculty will be able to collaborate across a broader span of grades, bringing a greater sense of coherence to planning and instruction.
- Seventh and eighth graders will continue to have grade-specific athletic and artistic opportunities. For instance, there will still be drama productions that are unique to grades seven and eight, and choir and band will continue as seventh and eighth-grade groups. Our athletic department will still sponsor seventh and eighth grade teams.
- Finally, we believe in our kids. We believe that the older students are the kind of role models that we aspire for our younger students to have. They aren’t perfect, but they are a kind, generous bunch, and the upper school environment will allow those in all six grade levels to thrive.
I can’t tell you how excited we are to begin operating with this model. Keep an eye out for more information on the transition as the year progresses.