Corrections: This story has been updated to reflect that Sheridan Road STEM Magnet School will become a 4-7 school this year and transition to a 4-8 next school year; Dwight Rich School of the Arts, Gardner International Magnet School and Post Oak Academy are K-8 schools; Lansing School District has 25 schools.
LANSING — A decade after the Lansing School District moved seventh- and eighth-graders into Sexton, Eastern and Everett high schools, the district is reversing course.
Starting this school year, some seventh- and eighth-graders will be reassigned to other schools as part of a multi-year process to return the three high schools to ninth through 12th grades.
As a result, the seventh-grade population at Eastern, Sexton and Everett high schools will be halved this year. The eighth-grade populations will begin being reduced in the 2023-24 school year.
All seventh- and eighth-grade students will be out of the city's high schools within the next two to three years, according to Superintendent Benjamin Shuldiner.
Seventh- and eighth-graders will instead spend an extra year in one of the district’s current or future 4-8 schools — Attwood New Tech Magnet School, Mount Hope STEAM Magnet School, North School and Sheridan Road STEM Magnet School — or at a future K-8 school, including Dwight Rich School of the Arts, Gardner International Magnet School, Lewton School, Pattengill Biotechnical Magnet School, Post Oak Academy and Wexford Montessori Academy.
“If the students are already safe and secure in their school, why move them (to the high school),” Shuldiner said.
When will the change happen?
Because of capacity limits at some schools, some seventh graders will be continuing to attend a high school this year. Students had the choice to stay at some schools, like Pattengill, or go on to high school, Shuldiner said.
School district officials put a cap on the number of seventh-grade students who could stay in their schools; students were admitted through a lottery.
“If a kid wanted to stay, but we didn’t have space, we’d note that, but help them into the high school they want,” Shuldiner said. “We can work with each family. When a family emails me, emails the superintendent, they’ll get an answer.”
About 80-90% of Lansing School District's students already have received their school and class assignments for the coming school year, he said. School officials continue to work with some teachers to confirm assignments.
For years, some parents have called for seventh- and eighth-grade students to be reassigned from the three high schools, Shuldiner said.
Yet some families are concerned about seventh- and eighth-graders sharing the schools with younger children.
Pros and cons of staying in the same school longer
Omari Boone, a Lansing School District alumnus and Sexton graduate, transferred his three children — a first-grader, fourth-grader and sixth-grader — out of Lansing School District over concerns he had about his children sharing the same school with older students.
Boone's fourth-grade son was going to go to Sheridan Road, which is changing from a 4-6 school last year to a 4-7 this year and a 4-8 next year. Now his children will be attending Grand Ledge Public Schools, with his first-grader and fourth-grader going to a K-4 elementary school and the sixth-grader going to Hayes Intermediate School for fifth- and sixth-graders.
“When you’re trying to fit five grades into one building, that situation doesn’t seem like the best environment,” he said. “What they need from an educational perspective is different from what younger students will need," he added. "Can you provide what they need in one setting?”
Although younger children might be going to school with students several grade levels above them, schools still try to separate them as much as possible, said Kristan Small Grimes, a teacher who works with sixth- through eighth-grade students at Wexford Montessori. Second-graders aren't sitting in classes with seventh- and eighth-graders, nor do they pass often in the hallways, she said.
Some educators see the benefits of keeping seventh and eighth-graders in their elementary or middle schools for one or two more years. It becomes an opportunity for older students to become mentors and leaders at their schools, Shuldiner said. And he hopes families who have multiple students in a range of grades appreciate the benefit of having all of their children in one school.
The extra years also give school teachers and administrators more time to strengthen relationships with students and families, said Mount Hope Principal Ray Freeze II.
“When students are comfortable and families are comfortable … and they don’t have to start all over and learn a new culture, they can get started more quickly in learning,” said Freeze, whose school is adding an eighth-grade option. “Kids learn better when they’re more comfortable.”
Some teachers are excited for the opportunity to keep their seventh- and eighth-grade students longer before sending them off to high school, Small Grimes said.
New challenges being faced
The addition of seventh- and eighth-grade students to some schools poses some new challenges to the school district.
On the north side of the district, there are few schools left, with the biggest being Sheridan Road, which is already mostly full, Shuldiner said. The district is looking at how to find more space for students, possibly by adding fourth-graders to Cumberland Elementary or Willow Elementary, which are both currently schools for pre-kindergartners through third-graders.
These changes and transitions are all part of an overall grade reconfiguration at Lansing School District. Prior to the changes, the school district’s 25 schools had nine different grade configurations, ranging from pre-K-3 and K-8 to 4-7, 6-8 and 7-12.
School district officials hope limiting school configurations to just four — pre-K-3, K-8, 4-8 and 9-12 — helps make the process of sending children through school a smoother, more cogent process that ultimately will keep them with the school district through graduation.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Lansing schools moving seventh, eighth-graders from high schools