The school year is more than half way done, and that has given Fairfield school officials a chance to reflect on the merits of whole-grade sharing.
Whole-grade sharing, often called grade alike, means all students in a particular grade attend school in the same building. The Fairfield Community District School Board adopted grade alike for the 2017-18 school year after deciding to close Libertyville Elementary School.
Pre-school through first-grade students now attend Washington Elementary School no matter where they live. Second- through fourth-graders attend Pence Elementary School. Both schools once had all grades through fourth.
?Not having older kids in the building has its advantages and disadvantages,? said Washington Elementary Principal Jeff Eeling. ?The older kids used to help the younger ones go through the lunch line, because the young ones didn?t know how. There are little things like that you take for granted.?
Eeling said Washington paired fourth-graders with first-graders, and third-graders with kindergartners. The older kids served as mentors to the younger ones, and Eeling said he misses that.
On the other hand, he said it?s nice that all teachers in the building now have an ?early childhood mindset.? Third- and fourth-grade teachers have to worry about getting their students ready for middle school and handle the responsibility of the Iowa Assessments, while young students are beefing up on their phonics.
Families are split up across buildings in a way they weren?t before. Eeling said the district experienced a bit of a ?hiccup? in handling that early, but the cross-town bus that transports students between buildings is working well now.
?If a child has a brother or sister at another building, their parent can pick up both of them at one spot,? Eeling said.
Eeling said the traffic before and after school seems worse, and he doesn?t have an easy answer for that.
?There isn?t much space in the parking lots or the streets,? outside Washington, he said. ?We?ve got more kids getting picked up than ever before because these are all little kids. Parents don?t want their 6- or 7-year-old walking home.?
Pence Elementary School Principal Chuck Benge said his staff is collaborating ?more now than ever before.? The teachers in one grade get together for 30 minutes once a week, which they spend talking about meeting educational standards and sharing resources.
?Some grades plan different themes together like ?Christmas Around the World? or ?Day 100? activities,? he said.
Benge agreed with Eeling that there was concern initially about parents picking up students from two different elementary schools, but the cross-town bus seems to have solved that problem.
?I would rate the success [of grade alike] as a seven,? he said. ?It?s the first year and there have been lots of kinks to work out, but as the year goes forward, things are running more and more smoothly.?
Benge said students have adjusted well to their new surroundings and made new friends along the way.
?Next year should be even easier because teachers will have the experiences and students will already know the expectations,? he said.
The grade that has changed the most in the past year is preschool. Last year, preschoolers attended four, half-day sessions. Now they come to school for two, all-day sessions. One group comes Wednesday and Friday and the other comes Tuesday and Thursday. Monday is a day for special needs students to work on their goals.
Eeling said the change was motivated by a desire to reduce transportation costs, because the full days eliminated the need to run extra buses just for the preschoolers. Plus, preschoolers receive more instruction now thanks to the full-day schedule. They used to be in class for four, 2.5-hour blocks totaling 10 hours of instruction per week. Now they attend two, seven-hour days, a total of 14 hours per week.
?Our teachers have more contact with the students now, and I?m hoping that will help them,? Eeling said. ?The biggest drawback with full days is that there are long delays in seeing the students. But before, each class was too short because the day was short. Two and a half hours goes by quickly. Now they can get into something and stay with it.?