Sixth grade to move to Upper School starting 2016-2017 school year

Miriam Minsk, Reporter

The CESJDS administration has officially announced that the sixth grade will move to the Upper School campus in the 2016-2017 school year.

The administration and the Middle School Redesign Team are currently working together to reform the middle school  in order to better suit the developmental needs of middle school students. Moving the sixth grade to the Upper School will allow them to be a part of this change and will open them to new opportunities which they would not have access to in the Lower School, according to Middle School Principal Rebecca Weisman.

“It is our feeling, [after] looking at research, looking at [the] best practices around the country, and just [from] our own experience with our students, that developmentally, for all of the different areas of human development, sixth graders are far more aligned with a middle school division,” Weisman said.

The Middle School Redesign Team is currently working to reform the middle school and create a more appropriate environment for middle school students with a  grant they recently received from the Legacy Heritage Headway Enrichment Grant. The team is composed of about 15 professionals including faculty from the Upper and Lower Schools.

“When we looked at our program we said that it really was a junior high school model where the class schedule was similar to high school,” Head of School Rabbi Mitchel Malkus said. “The way that we approach subjects was similar to high school, and while we did things related to social-emotional development that were appropriate for middle school students, we just felt that overall the program wasn’t a middle school program.”

Teachers and administrators believe that the new middle school will provide a better fit for sixth-graders.

“I think it is a good idea because there is a natural developmental transition at that age which links sixth graders very naturally with seventh and eighth graders,” said Nicholas Miller, science teacher and member of the Middle School Redesign Team. “This is particularly true with their ability to analyze.”

The administration believes that the Upper School will provide important changes for the sixth-graders that accommodate their developmental needs.

“To be in a middle school division means the scheduling will give [sixth-graders] the blocks of time that we need for them to engage in learning that’s appropriate for them,” Weisman said. “[This includes] hands on learning, moving around, breaks as they appropriately need it, [and] physical space.”

Moving to the Upper School will hopefully open up new academic and extracurricular opportunities for sixth grade students as well.

“They will have more exposure to new and different ideas, both from teachers and from the older students,” sixth grade teacher Deborah Feigenson said. “Being at the Upper School will give them more access to extracurricular activities such as sports and drama, and our hope is to build more service-learning opportunities into the middle school program.”

The administration is currently working to resolve difficulties of the physical layout of the school. While classes are currently located by subject, reorganizing them to separate middle school and high school classes is being considered.

The administration has not yet decided what they are going to do about middle school teachers. Teachers may continue teaching both middle and high school classes, or may begin to teach only middle school or high school, respectively. Bringing sixth grade teachers to teach middle schoolers in the Upper School is also a possibility.

“I personally would be thrilled to move to the Upper School,” Feigenson said. “While I love my colleagues at the Lower School, I really miss not being able to see my sixth-grade students on a regular basis after they’ve moved on to seventh grade and beyond. This would also give me the opportunity to bring my Shakespeare club to the Upper School, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”

Contrary to popular student belief, Malkus and Weisman claim that there is enough room for the sixth graders in the Upper School. According to them, the school has a capacity of about 675 students, and even when sixth grade moves to the campus, there will still be room for 75 to 100 more students in the building.

“Based on the enrollment projections that our strategic plan has put in place, and based on moving sixth grade over, we are still of the belief that we have the space to accommodate them,” Weisman said.

Despite the enthusiasm expressed by the administration, students have worries about moving the sixth grade into the Upper School. Freshman Noa Schisterman believes that it is “already crowded enough” at the Upper School, and feels the extra year at the Lower School helped her grade to get ready for the Upper School.

“I think it really helped my grade personally to mature a little bit to be the oldest in the school for a year,” Schisterman said.

Seventh grader Hadara Bilsky enjoyed sixth grade at the Lower School, specifically the New York Trip and the chance to be a patrol. However, she recognizes the opportunities for growth that the Upper School provides.

“We’ll we have more freedom and you go to classes by yourselves compared to when you were [younger],” Bilsky said.

Specifically because many JPDS students come to JDS after sixth grade, when JPDS ends, JDS has kept JPDS updated on the changes to the middle school.

“We feel we have a very nice, strong relationship with JPDS [and] a good number of their students when they graduate come to us and are very successful in our school and become a part of our community very quickly,” Weisman said.

Although the details are still being worked out, Weisman believes that the new middle school model will provide new and unique opportunities for sixth grade students at the Upper School.

“The current experience in the Lower School has been extraordinary, we all know that it’s been a great education, it’s just going to give them more opportunities that are more appropriate for them at that stage of life,” Weisman said.