The following article, exploring the concept behind the School District of Lancaster’s new K-8 school, was included in PSBA’s Product Periscope.
We know the middle grades are challenging times—through various studies, the ubiquitous Judy Blume novels or our own painful memories of early adolescence. Today’s middle schools, encompassing various combinations of grades five through eight, were introduced in the 1960s to ease transition to the upper grades. The conversion of the School District of Lancaster’s Elizabeth R. Martin School to a K-8 configuration reflects a recent countertrend in larger urban districts around the country to return to earlier models which studies are finding provide certain benefits to students in the long run.
Blending a range of ages, particularly kindergarten through eighth grades, requires careful attention to design details to effectively support educational objectives.
1. Maintain a small-school experience: At Elizabeth Martin, the classrooms are arranged on two floors. Younger grades on the lower level have their own entry. Classrooms are grouped in pods, each with a small group instruction room.
2. Recognize that one size won’t fit all: Kindergarten classrooms are paired to share bathrooms with smaller fixtures. A secondary activity/fitness room provides a smaller venue for lower grade gym classes and indoor recess. The lower bookshelves in the library are “front and center” leading back to the window-bay reading nook.
3. Build in adaptability: Flexible learning spaces, furniture solutions and building-wide WiFi support continually evolving teaching practices. A drop-down cafeteria partition allows for separation of grades while maintaining another large group area.
Standardized test scores, attendance and other factors will be monitored to determine if the district will replicate the K-8 model at other schools. Likewise, post occupancy evaluation by RLPS will review how the design supports program and operational objectives. Regardless of grade configuration, RLPS designs around each district’s specific program objectives to provide lasting value for the communities we serve.