The Model School
by Harry V. McKay, Jr., Head of School Emeritus
For many years I’ve found myself talking to groups of parents about the wonderful advantages of a K-8 school. Even during the years of the emerging public middle school movement in this country I would hear myself logically explaining why I still believed that children were best served in a school model that keeps siblings and friends together in the same safe place until they are 13 or 14 and ready for high school. Today I feel as though my patience with the ‘enlightened’ school reformers has finally paid off as I now read that virtually every major city in the United States is moving back to the K-8 school model, and as quickly as they are able to budget for such a transition.
In my mind there are many good reasons for returning to the K-8 model, but first let me remind you that the concept of a middle school was created in the first place because of demographics, not because educational research had proved that early teens learn better if they are moved away from their little brothers and sisters after 5th grade and put all together in large institutions that would be run like mini high schools. No, not at all! Actually, middle schools were created when the baby boomer kids were filling up the elementary school buildings and there simply wasn’t enough room for the 6th-8th graders. The solution that seemed logical at the time was to move those older kids out into their own schools. The middle school model actually preceded any thoughtful curricular research as to its suitability for youngsters. Once the model was in place educational researchers had a field day for decades, trying to design a rationale for this approach, as well as curricula to support it pedagogically. Indeed, there is now a plethora of middle school curricula available. However, the pendulum has now swung, as it usually does in education, and we are all bearing witness to the ‘new reform’ movement of K-8
The best of those models are in many ways similar to Saint Andrew’s, where: there is a shared common philosophy and mission for 9 – 10 years of a youngsters educational journey; where there is a coordinated developmental curriculum and program that is created and implemented by the professionals who teach; where there is a more natural, family-like, grouping of youngsters; where older kids mentor the little ones and the youngest ‘look up’ to the oldest; where young teens have authentic ways of showing leadership because the little kids are around; where kids remain kids for a longer period of time because they’re more sheltered; where extended parenting is central to the school culture; where faculty members teach youngsters instead of teaching a discipline; and where ‘safety’ and ‘caring’ are uppermost in the minds of the adults every single day. For my money the K-8 model is, indeed, the model school!