Time is of the Essence: A Parent’s Perspective on Preschool through 8th Grade

middle school boy is kneeling to give 2 preschool boys a high five

“I wish I had been here from the beginning”, said my older son half-way through 7th grade at BCD a couple of years ago. When I asked him why, he gave me several reasons: The teachers, the students, the community, the opportunities to explore new interest areas, the leadership opportunities, the service projects, the trips, and last but not least “I am finally getting how to balance academics and the rest of my interests- and I don’t have to choose one or the other- I can just be me”. I liked his answers and with our second son saying to me just the other day that he too wishes he had been at BCD “for more time than I will have here in middle school”, I decided to see how much their comments may be more than a personal story. As a trained education researcher, looking further, deeper and more closely is what I am passionate about; -and when personal experience matches with solid data, I am calling that a “Great Day!”

With my curiosity sparked, I wondered:

What may be the advantages to a PS-8 school experience vs. stand-alone preschool, elementary and middle school programs? What do we know from the research and how does this match with what I see in my children’s experience at BCD?

From personal experience, I have seen remarkable results coming from BCD. Our older son (by now a freshman who dared to be taller than his mom!), truly blossomed academically and socially at BCD and graduated from it with confidence and dedication to continue to combine his athletics, personal interests and his academic path into a version of a student-athlete who happens to enjoy marine-biology, architecture, music and working with younger students. He still has deep friendships with several BCD students. My younger son is currently embracing the many benefits of a BCD middle school experience. As a sixth grader, he has quickly discovered that community and opportunities to explore new interests, forge friendships, and being challenged and supported by amazing teachers are some of BCD’s best ingredients- or “special sauce” as we like to say in our home. I can’t wait to see what he will discover about himself as he continues to grow into this community in the upcoming years.  

From the research field then: To date the largest study exploring outcomes from different school models, tracked 5,754 students from 1,712 U.S. schools from Kindergarten through 8th grade from 1998-2007 in a variety of school settings. The study showed mixed results on the academic impact of middle grade schools versus K-8 schools, with several other studies since then showing clear benefits for K-8 schools. For example, more recently, Cappella and her colleagues found that attending a middle (grades 6-8) or junior high school (grades 7-9) negatively impacted certain measures of beliefs about students’ academic abilities. The most dramatic negative effect was measured in students attending middle schools (grades 6-8); they were more likely to have a negative view of their reading skills and interest levels. Capella and her colleagues also reported on other findings that show that “the social and academic contexts of middle grade schools may not be well-aligned with early adolescents’ developmental needs for autonomy, feeling connected to others, and feeling competent.” Despite a need for more definitive research findings, we do know for certain, as Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and director of NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change states, “Students’ self-perceptions of academic competence are critical in early adolescence, as they contribute to the development of their identity and their engagement with school.”  

John Suitor, Head of School, explained in a BCD blog post: “To that end, we have diligently created a Middle School program at BCD that we believe offers a unique balance of academics, electives, character development, community service, and leadership forming an innovative overall curriculum designed to challenge and guide students through these sometimes tumultuous years.”  

We may sometimes take the transition points between preschool and elementary school, and between elementary and middle school as “real” transition points, and as logical jumping on or off points to or from other schools and programs. However, it may also be useful to remember that these transition points are largely arbitrary markers that were implemented as a sorting mechanism in large school systems rather than being informed by best practices from child development and successful school models.  

What then might be if we let the full trajectory unfold from the beginning years all the way through 8th grade at one school? Imagine: A child starting as a toddler in preschool, developing first trusting relationships and enjoying an ever-deepening sense of community over many years at that same school from early through middle childhood. As parents we realize that the early formative years give way to all the “other formative years” and we experience the immense value of being well-known, feeling connected and creating community with others as we navigate the early stages of wearing shorts in the snow to the adolescent stages of wearing shorts in the snow! I would like to think having the extended amount of time to develop trusting relationships with peers and adults, a sense of belonging and the courage to explore new challenges, might be one of the most valuable gifts of a Preschool through 8th grade program to our children. If, in addition, such a program is informed by best practices in child development and pedagogy, it truly is a rare gem. At BCD, a child can blossom over a decade if a family starts in preschool and stays through 8th grade. We are fortunate in being able to go from the early formative years through all the other formative years together knowing that each program is indeed informed by best practices and implemented by dedicated educators.  

Yes, I have seen the great benefits of a BCD school experience first-hand, and I too wish we had been here from the beginning- as education researcher AND as parent- the arguments for it are truly compelling!  

Patricia Jarvis, Ph.D. BCD Alumni Parent

Ph.D. Educational Leadership and Research Methods

M.A. Literature and Second Language Acquisition (Curriculum and Instruction)

B.A. Literature and Cultural Studies      


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