Mixing It Up Over Combined-Grade Classes

(By Julie Zhu/montgomery Blair High School)
Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

I am the parent of two children attending Fairfax County public schools.

One of the issues I have not seen addressed in your column is split classes. This is the situation in which a school doesn't have enough students in a particular grade to qualify for a new teacher, but there are too many students to comfortably fit into one class.

A class ends up being created that contains children from two grade levels, and the teacher is expected to teach two sets of curricula.

My son is entering the fifth grade at a small and wonderful elementary school. He is facing a split class with either the sixth grade or the fourth grade. Nothing will be certain until just before school starts because of a request for a new teacher by the principal, and, of course, because of last-minute registrations. Two years ago, my son was part of a split class of second- and third-graders (he was in third grade). It was not a good year for his progress in many of the core subjects: math, reading, etc.

Communication from the teacher was not smooth because she had more than 25 students plus families to communicate with.

It was a difficult year for all involved. A family friend in the school has been in split classes in the first and third grades and is facing a split for fifth grade, as well.

When I tell friends and family about this concept of split classes, a common comment is made: "I didn't know Fairfax County had split classes." I didn't, either, until my son's third-grade experience.

For many students who, like my son, do not work well independently for long periods, I can't fathom how this can foster a strong learning environment for either grade involved in the split.

While our wonderful principal and our School Board representative, Jane Straus, continue to request a new teacher to alleviate this issue, and the parents write letters of concern, I am left looking at what the other options are for my son.

I guess my question is whether split classes are a viable option for educating our children in the 21st century.

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