We’ve performed The Boston Tea Party in more schools than I can remember this school year. We’ve performed in numerous middle schools, the occasional junior high, tons of elementary schools, and even a couple of high schools (not The Bureau’s best booking work there). Now, most of these schools have been great and I completely related to the educational environment. This past Thursday’s school got me thinking about a type of school we’ve seen a tiny bit of: the lower elementary school (and its partner the upper elementary school).
This is a type of school that was completely foreign to my childhood education. In my nice suburban Kansas City district we had elementary (K-6), junior high (7 & 8), and high school. Middle schools (6-8) were around and I was aware of them, but didn’t have any real experience with them. And of course I had heard of and even visited some “1 room schoolhouses” and other K-12s in small rural areas.
I make the following observations based on exactly zero expertise, but a lot of interest in why these decisions are made. All of the above school structure systems seems to make sense to me. Younger kids experiencing education basically from one teacher and older kids getting more specialized instruction from multiple instructors. It also makes sense to me on a social interaction basis–kids of relatively like age learning together. But, when you break this up even further and start at a younger age, what does the cost / benefit analysis look like?
Lower elementary schools have only K-2 (or K-3), while upper elementary is 3-5 (or 4-6). These schools are set up in the same way as far as daily schedule and basic environment. Students have one classroom teacher, with special instructors for PE, music, etc. in both schools. The school day is the same length. In fact, in our last school, they had just changed to a lower elementary. The year before, both elementary schools were K-5. This year one is K-2 and the other 3-5. The only apparent difference seems to be that really young students are separated from the merely young students. Why?
You can, of course, come up with many reasons: combining teacher and material resources more efficiently, separating young students from bullies and other potential social problems, maybe students learn better in this more like age concentration.
I can also think of things that I really liked about the old, traditional set up: being a 6th grader was important and empowering and just a cool thing to finally acheive, interacting with older (and younger) kids has great educational value, a more diverse student body allows for broad social development.
Now, since I have no formal education in any of these areas, only speaking through my observation as a special instructor, I don’t which of my assumptions are true and which are merely my assumptions. Do kids really learn better amongst a narrow age group? Is social development actually better for those who experience a large student body when in school? Can a school district really save time and money by further narrowing a school’s student body?
Looking back, I don’t think I would have liked lower and upper elementary as much as I liked my own elementary school. But maybe that’s just an assumption.