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Island Talkback: Perspectives on a 7-12

Submitted by on 1, December 10, 2010 – 12:03 amNo Comment

If Alameda Unified isn’t successful in passing a parcel tax this spring or finding another source of cash, school district officials say that schools will have to close. But even if the tax does pass, one change could still be considered: The creation of a 7-12 school at Encinal High.

Some have said they’re concerned the school is not the right choice for middle school students, who they fear could face educational setbacks or outright harm when mixed in with older students; they question what they believe is an inequity between the West End and East End of town, which would get K-8 schools and a traditional 9-12 high school at Alameda High under the district’s “Plan B” closure scenario. But others say a 7-12 could offer the chance to provide additional learning opportunities at an earlier age and to build a stronger community than they can at a traditional middle school, where students attend for just three years.

We asked for some perspectives on the matter, and parent Jane Grimaldi and teacher Diana Kenney graciously obliged. Here’s what they have to say.

By Jane Grimaldi

I was alarmed when I saw the very latest version of proposed Master Plan B, with its two different school systems east and west of Walnut Street.

My initial intuitive reaction was that a K-8 elementary with a 9-12 high school certainly sounded better than a K-6 elementary with a 7-12 high school, and that this Plan B seems inequitable. Much younger students mixed with much older students in a 7-12 configuration leads me to fear for the younger students’ safety, performance, and self-esteem. I worry about overcrowding, younger at-risk students being more likely to slip through the cracks, peer pressure, and the unmet needs of those young seventh and eighth graders. A K-8 configuration certainly sounds more nurturing for seventh and eighth grade students.

I’ve also heard equal anecdotal evidence in either direction: People who went to school in Europe and attended a 7-12 and had a fine experience versus people who attended a 7-12 here in the U.S. who were negatively affected and certainly don’t want that for their children.

My initial reaction and my reactions to people’s personal stories aren’t based on facts, however, so I turned to the research for a more definitive answer. I found there have been quite a few studies pertaining to the K-8 configuration. In recent studies, the K-8 model schools have shown positive average student growth in both math and reading (North Carolina Lea Case Study “Middle Grade Configuration and Student Growth,” Casey Wyant and Kayla Mathis, August 2007). A change to K-8 would in fact be a positive change for students.

I found fewer studies relating to the 7-12 configuration; it’s rarely used. What I could find did show that this early transition to high school, occurring two crucial adolescent years earlier than a traditional 9-12 high school, is a more stressful experience for the child. Girls are more likely to suffer a drop in self-esteem, in extracurricular activities, and in leadership behaviors. Boys suffer similar drops in extracurricular activities and in grades (“Moving to Adolescence: The Impact of Pubertal Change and School Context,” Roberta G. Simmons and Dale A. Blyth, 1987). These negative effects were found to last for years.

So, I listen to my intuition and I follow the research: a K-6 / 7-12 configuration is substantively unequal to a K-8 / 9-12 configuration. How can we allow this inequity within our school district, and within our community?

By Diana Kenney

I am writing this piece as a mother, Alameda resident, 20-year educator in AUSD and a proud faculty member at Encinal High School. I realize that parents only know the educational experience they experienced when they attended school. What many parents are not aware of is that their students are living in a very different and exciting time: The Age of Information – the Digital Age.

Education is generally a slow institution to adapt to the changes in the world. The world economy, higher education, even world governments have seen the power of living in the Digital Age. However, our institutions are still struggling to hold on to previous “model” of education. I’m writing to express my belief that a 7-12 option at Encinal High can be a positive and timely change for the students living in the 21st century:

1. Students in grades 6-8 will have less transition. They will spend six years (like they do in elementary school) in an educational environment that supports their learning and builds community with their families.

2. Vertical articulation with educators 7-12. Having educators 7-12 on one campus gives them the opportunity to meet regularly and talk about how to educate all “our” students.

3. Alameda Community Learning Center, a 6-12 model, has shared the Encinal High School campus for more than 10 years. I am not aware of any issues that have developed because of the younger students being on campus.

4. EHS has an exemplary career and technical educational program offering students 2D and 3D animation, game design, digital media design, green construction and digital citizenship. Imagine students beginning these programs in seventh grade!

5. EHS offers Spanish and French AP courses. Imagine students having the opportunity to take one of these languages for five or more years.

I believe that these are only a few reasons that a 7-12 model is a positive thing for our students and educational community. I believe we will see a decrease in the number of students who lose interest in school and simply drop out.

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