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I've been in psychotherapy practice for 30 years. My interest is in the whole person, and what serves their development best. I also taught child development and the family some years ago, so I know something about the most vulnerable times in our children's lives. The school board is now considering many proposals for addressing the future needs of our children.

One that troubles me involves the placement of fifth-graders, 10- and 11-year-old boys and girls, who are faced with the greatest challenges (physical, emotional and social) since infancy, in a middle school environment. These youngsters would be thrown together with the 6-8th-graders and become a 5-8th-grade permanent middle school structure. Yanking them out of their elementary schools before being ready will place them in jeopardy. The research already tells us that grade configurations that expand middle schools, in general, adversely affect psychological safety and comfort in learning. The group most likely to suffer is the group on the bottom, the 10-11-year-old fifth-graders. This group needs the fifth-grade experience to remain in the elementary school where the nurturing of childhood educators is still available. They are in-between, not at puberty as yet, but getting all the growing pains associated with the coming of it.

While middle school zealots will justify the 5-8 transition by espousing cognitive learning via Úquot;enrichmentÚquot; and Úquot;specialized educational programs,Úquot; they cannot provide for the bio-psycho-social needs of our fifth-graders. If we force development on our children before they are ready, we hinder learning by reducing the quality of school life so crucial to this age group. Even sixth-graders are too young to be fully immersed in an adolescent environment.

The fifth-grade belongs in the elementary schools. Cost savings or efficient structural planning may take for granted that fifth-graders can Úquot;adjust.Úquot; Some middle schools congratulate themselves on how they programmatically assuage the fears of fifth-graders before they actually experience the realities of adolescent-driven middle schools. The problem with this approach is that it is a rationalization for making the reconfiguration in the first place. When we have no choice, we all adjust. We know about the psychological/emotional price this group will pay if forced to Úquot;adjustÚquot; to being little fish in the big, chaotic pond, before their bodies and minds are more ready. Give them the year they need. Keep the fifth-graders in the elementary schools. It works! Happy, safe kids learn better. It is essential that their bodies and minds have this crucial time for growth.

Carl Bagnini, CSW, BCD


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