Four years ago, the Pasco (Wash.) district dealt with crowding at its middle schools by moving sixth-graders to elementary schools.
Now, The Tri-City Herald reports, with a fourth middle school under construction and set to open in 2020, the district plans to return sixth grade to its middle schools.
But some parents aren't happy about the shift.
“Sixth grade should not be put back into middle school,” says parent Krysti Jenson. “That’s a lot of space that they’re going to have to get used to. That’s a lot of adjustment they’re going to have to go through.”
The district is holding meetings beginning this week to receive input from parents of fourth- and fifth-graders.
After voters rejected a bond in 2011 to build a fourth middle school, sixth-graders were moved out of Ochoa, Stevens and McLoughlin middle schools in 2015 to ease the space crunch.
Funding to construct a middle school was part of a successful 2017 bond referendum, and Ray Reynolds Middle School is set to open next fall.
The additional 1,100 spots at the new campus will mark the first time in several years that the Pasco district will be able to accommodate all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in middle schools.
Research is mixed on what’s best for the sixth-graders.
Some say they perform better if they continue to have the support available in elementary schools. Others say the preteens do well when they have the freedom to explore at a younger age.
Putting them at the middle school offers them more chances to explore academic options, says Jenny Rodriquez, Pasco’s executive director of secondary education.
When they’re in elementary school, they have access to only a limited number of special classes, like music or physical education, she noted.
Once they’re in middle school, they have access to more options, from cooking to robotics. Spending three years in middle school also gives educators a year longer to know the students and their families before they’re into high school.
“I think for the kids, every transition that we have is challenging,” Rodriquez says. “It can create some anxiety both for the students and for their parents. We see very similar excitement and worries when students go into ninth grade.”
Throughout Washington state, it’s much more common to have sixth-graders in middle school, Rodriquez says.