Educating 12-year olds and 18 year-olds together

12-Year-Olds in a High School Building?

Declining enrollment forces some 7th and 8th graders into high school buildings

By Walter Brooks

Sandwich is between a rock
and a hard place
Sandwich Superintendent of Schools Dr. C. Richard Canfield was between a rock and a hard place last week when he stood before a public meeting on proposed plans to move the town’s seventh and eighth grades into the high school building as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Academy.

Instruction Versus Construction

Dr. Canfield is faced with a K-8 school building that requires tens of millions in renovation work and a district where enrollments have declined by almost 18.96% since 2001.  The most financially viable solution for Sandwich is to move grades seven and eight into the high school building. 

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Rather than building an “edifice”, Canfield advocates for upgrading the high school to accommodate the younger students and devising a STEM Academy that promises to provide a higher level instruction for those students than they currently receive in the K-8 buildings.  STEM is a good way to put a happy face on a financial necessity.

The Sandwich situation is unique on Cape Cod only in that it involves seventh grade students.  Eighth graders already attend Barnstable High School.  Dennis-Yarmouth has a small pilot test of a grade eight STEM program at their high school.  When Monomoy Regional High School opens it will include grades eight through twelve.

Challenging Choices

Barnstable had little choice but to move the eighth graders to their high school.  During a district-wide reconfiguration several elementary buildings were closed.  Moreover, with the combined drain of declining enrollment of 23.93% since 2001, school choice exits and students moving to the Sturgis Charter Public School, Barnstable High School had the empty space needed to accommodate the eighth grade.

The new Monomoy region – a “shotgun wedding” between Chatham and Harwich – was forced to add eighth grade to their new high school.The new Monomoy region – a “shotgun wedding” between Chatham and Harwich – was forced to add eighth grade to their new high school in order to hit the student population threshold necessary to maximize state construction funding.

As parents and grandparents, we’re just as concerned as some of the folks who attended Dr. Canfield’s public meeting last week.  We aren’t entirely comfortable sending a twelve-year-old to school with seventeen and eighteen year olds.  School officials everywhere promise to keep the younger kids segregated from the upperclassmen but we have a lingering skepticism.

The reality of the situation is that the school districts have little choice.  With enrollment dropping and deteriorating finances, school districts across the county are retrenching in the best way they can find.  For one district it might mean closing one or more schools, others may move junior high kids into a high school building and still others may lay off a boatload of teachers.

We believe the district administrators making these decisions are doing the best they can in a challenging situation.  At this stage we trust their good intentions when younger kids must move into a high school building.  However, as your local news sentinel, we will be waiting, watching, and reporting on how the actual implementation works.

What Do You Think?

We would like to hear from our readers about how they feel on this topic?  Do you support moving younger kids into a high school building?  What concerns do you have about school consolidation?  Does anyone from Barnstable or Dennis-Yarmouth have some positive experiences to relate? 

Please email your comments to [email protected] along with your permission to publish your letter to the editor.  If any school executive, board member or parent group leader would like to write an op-ed on this topic, and we welcome your words.

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