This school year, the middle school hallway is a bit more crowded, as middle school now includes fifth grade. Changes to the curriculum, called “looping,” allow students to have the same teacher in fifth and sixth grade, as well as the same teacher in seventh and eighth grade.
“I ultimately think the looping is a good idea; I think it’s a positive change,” said Middle School English and Latin Teacher Keith Schwarz. “I like the greater breathing room that I have. It gives me the ability to take what I used to have to cram into one year and spread it over two, so I can go deeper with it over a two-year span versus one.”
It all started a few years ago, when the teachers were asked by the Board of Trustees to produce a five-year vision for the school. Jenny Velasquez, the middle school head and the fifth and sixth grade social studies teacher, strongly supported this new program and has been receiving positive feedback from the faculty and parents.
“(The teachers) know their strengths, they know where they need support, and they know their work habits,” said Head of School Merry Sorrells. “(The new system) also allows us to have the faculty work very closely together and to integrate the curriculum.”
With the new curriculum in place, two classrooms in the middle school have been combined, which allows more students to be in one class. This new classroom setting also motivates students to work together and learn in both formal and informal ways of study.
The only problem the faculty is trying to fix at the moment pertains to the fifth-graders traveling back and forth from middle school to lower school. The fifth-graders still have some of their classes in the lower school, but next year the administration hopes all fifth-grade classes will be in the middle school. Throughout the year, the school will be improving the new program to resolve these issues as best they can.
After seeing how the program works, the parents overwhelmingly responded positively. The fifth-graders love being part of middle school. They are excited and nervous at the same time.
“I think I was a little bit dramatic, like ‘Oh my gosh, what’s this year gonna be like,’ and ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna have so many quizzes and tests, and they’re gonna be really hard and stuff,’ but it’s actually really easy,” said Fifth-Grader Angelo Fassbender. “It makes me feel a lot older; it makes me feel like I’m smarter.”
As for the fourth-graders, they love being the oldest in lower school.
“As the big kids in lower school, we want to be leaders and guide the younger kids so that when they get to be in fourth grade, they will be prepared, and they will be able to lead our school,” said Fourth-Grader Blade Punch.
Punch is less thrilled about his future as the youngest member of the middle school.
“I am not looking forward to being the youngest kid in middle school because we are going to feel like the oddballs out because fifth grade has been a part of lower school for a long time,” Punch said.
The newly-created leadership role of the fourth-graders in the lower school is not only perceived by the students themselves, but also by the administration.
“I see the kids really taking care of each other and enjoying each other,” Sorrells said. “When you have younger students, the older students take more of a leadership role and more of a caring role.”
Now that the fifth-graders are mainly in the middle school building, the old fifth-grade rooms will be used for other grade levels. Recently, the enrollment of St. Martin’s Episcopal School has been growing. Specifically, the George Cottage has gone from 35 to 100 children in the last few years. The newly-freed space in the lower school will provide flexible classrooms for future generations of St. Martin’s students. St. Martin’s has also transformed one room in the middle school into a “Latin Lounge” and is in the process of repurposing other spaces that were once underutilized, according to Merry Sorrells.
Overall, the changes in both the curriculum and in the classrooms in the middle and lower school signify a transformation in the leadership roles of the fifth- and fourth-graders and in the educational dynamic of St. Martin’s.
“I think the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Velasquez said. “The fifth-graders feel like the big dogs being up here, and they have risen to the occasion.”