Most schools in our area have chosen to draw the line between elementary and middle school between 5th and 6th grade. It’s just at the moment when children are feeling a bit more self-conscious about their changing bodies and wondering how they are going to fit into the social scene, they enter a situation where they are placed into a much larger class with uncertain connections to peers and adults. 6th grade seems like a rite of passage that they need to get through to then have the knowledge and confidence of 7th or 8th grader in the school. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. The simple act of being a 6th grader in an environment where younger students are present can help one feel like a “top dog,” with the sense of belonging that allows for a student to thrive.
In the article by NPR Education Blogger, Anya Kamenetz, “Sixth Grade is Tough; It Helps to be Top Dog,” the author cites a study of the impact of the grade-level span of a school on student performance. The study connects a general dip in achievement from 5th to 6th grade in part to the transition of feeling like a “top dog” as the oldest in an elementary school to a “bottom dog”, the youngest of the students in a middle school. This is further related to a student’s physical size and maturity relative to others in the learning environment. There is a positive psychological impact of being around younger students. Students who feel like “top dogs” express feeling safer and more confident, which allows them to take the necessary risks, to be a bit more vulnerable, which, in turn, optimizes their potential for learning and growth. Interestingly, being new at a school does not automatically relegate a student to “bottom dog;” “the students who transferred into sixth grade in a K - 8 school still had better experiences than those who started at a 6 - 8 school.”
At Saint Andrew’s, we recognize this tremendous period of growth and change as an opportunity to partner with families to create a positive atmosphere that fosters individual maturation and sense of place within a community. Every aspect of our sixth grade experience, and all of middle school for that matter, is purposefully designed to challenge and empower students while providing thoughtful support. Our academic curriculum, enrichment programs, advisory, program, buddy program, athletics, and field trips all provide a sturdy foundation for a young person to take those steps into high school with confidence.
Being the bottom dog is inevitable at some points of an educational journey. Being in the youngest cohort as a freshman in high school or college has its challenges and opportunities. In those years, the latter stages of adolescence and beyond, much of a student’s identity is formed, competences are known, passions are developed. In fact, those junctures may be ideal for transitions, as students are ready to apply themselves to new environments. They aspire to be varsity athletes, lead performers, and class leaders, as they draw from the expertise of their older classmates.
Experience for yourself how Saint Andrew's leverages our
Pre-Kindergarten to 8th grade span so that everyone feels like a top dog.