A study released by researchers at Syracuse University and New York University, highlighted in this NPR article by Anya Kamenetz, provides a strong affirmation of the K-8 learning environment. The study examined experiences of students in New York City at schools serving various grades. They specifically focused on the experience of middle school students (grades six through eight) within the K-8 model, traditional middle schools (6-8) and schools serving grades 6-12. The data reinforces the impact of ‘top dog’ and ‘bottom dog’ status on bullying, safety, belonging, and academic achievement.

There has been a lot of research lately into what is referred to as the “top dog/bottom dog” phenomenon.

In the K-8 schools, those tweens and young teens were the “top dogs” — the oldest, the most comfortable and familiar with the school. But, in traditional middle schools and 6-12 schools, sixth-graders were the “bottom dogs.”  

~ Anya Kamenetz

One of the arguments in favor of the K-8 model is the opportunities these schools have to foster the interaction between grade levels. “An example of this was evident in seventh grade,” says Mrs. Naghib, the Upper School social studies teacher. “This project required them to share stories with second graders. They had to research and create stories, but with the understanding that their audience is much younger. They had to become the teachers.” View the video below to learn more about the project.   

“One of the benefits to the K-8 model is that it allows a school to focus on those middle school years as leadership years,” says Dr. Hessberg, the Upper School Director. “In a K-12 environment those middle school years can be lost years. Here, we can focus on providing opportunities for them to grow as leaders of the school – building confidence and character.”

The Buddy Program, which matches classes across grade levels, is also a terrific example.

Additional studies also support the conclusion that students who remain in a K-8 environment produce higher test scores and have more opportunities for leadership and growth.


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