by Dave Connery
The 2012-2013 school year at SCS is the first of two years for a transition in class configuration throughout the school. These configurations are the grouping of classes and grades based on grade level and the mix of grade levels within each team and class. Every five years, the administration of SCS creates committees to review class configuration. In its form at that time, there were classrooms of several configurations: standalone, multi-age, and looping throughout the K-8 curriculum. Stand alone classrooms represent the traditional school model where students of a single grade have one teacher and the mix changes each year. Multi-age classrooms are where children of multiple grade levels are taught by one teacher together for the period the class represents. For example, a 4-5 multi-age group would stay together for two years with the same teacher. A looping classroom is where a teacher has an entire class of the same age, but moves with them to the next grade for the next year.
A committee of teachers and administration was formed, representing the administration and faculty of both the elementary and middle school. During the information gathering portion of this exercise, teachers discussed the positive and negative features of each potential configuration against how the team was currently set up. Research was sought on grade configuration versus generally accepted academic development and social development.
It is important to know, however, that learning the curriculum is only one piece of the experience of education at SCS. Two other important pieces among many are social interaction among peers and the continuity of learning as the student changes grades and subjects. For social interaction, children learn important relationship building skills that are valuable throughout their childhood and adolescence, and often these are developed and challenged as the child grows and learns along with their physical age. Second, each time a child changes grades and teachers, there is a transitional period where both student and teacher must learn and adapt to a new system or routine.
As the committee’s findings evolved, a few things became clear. One, third grade is a crucial year in learning. For example, it is when children often make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. It is a year of big cognitive and social changes. This year would stay as individual grades. Second, the middle school would stay as multi-grade to reduce transitions and support strong relationships between peers and teachers.
This left the grades K-2 and 4-5 for consideration. After discussion, the recommendation was made to maintain standalone kindergarten classes for such an important year. No school in the CSSU mixes K-1 or K-2. For 1-2 and 4-5, all classes would transition to looping for the 2013-2014 school year, with the option of doing this already for the current 2012-2013 school year. This change at both grade configurations will maintain a two-year relationship between the teacher, the student, and the family. The number of transitions for the child is reduced, as they are with the same group and teacher for two years. This encourages more continuity and interdisciplinary curriculums, among other benefits. With a class of a single age, teachers are more able to meet student needs, and focus on gaining a strong knowledge of students at that grade level.
For the current school year, SCS is in a transition itself. Some teams have gone to looping, whereas some have not. The goal is to be fully converted to looping by the next school year after this first year of transition as teachers and students adapt to the new configuration.
Dave Connery is a Shelburne School District board member.