Wolf Branch fifth-graders to relocate to middle school next year

News-DemocratMay 8, 2013 

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Fifth-graders at Wolf Branch School District 113 will attend Wolf Branch Middle School next year as opposed to the elementary school.

Superintendent Scott Harres said relocating the fifth-graders to the middle school next year will improve the district's efficiency. "We realize we have to live within our means," he said. "This will increase efficiency and provide more opportunities."

However, some parents, who were recently notified of the change via a two-page letter in the mail, are not happy with the decision.

Parent Lisa Kohlenberger of Swansea said she's worried it's not in the best interest of the fifth-graders. "It's not developmentally appropriate to put them in the culture of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders," she said. "Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are at a different place physically. Cognitively, I wonder if they have the strength to stand up to the types of peer pressure they'll encounter at the middle school."

Kohlenberger, who has a third-grader at Wolf Branch Elementary, questioned the reasons behind the move. "I personally have not heard a reason given that is good and worthy of moving 10 year olds to the middle school," she said.

Currently, 577 kindergarten through fifth-grade students attend the elementary school, and 313 sixth- through eighth-grade students attend the middle school. Both schools are located near each other on Huntwood Road. Moving the incoming 100 fifth-graders to the middle school, Harres said, will more evenly distribute the students between the schools.

While fifth-graders will be housed in the middle school building, Harres said the four fifth-grade classrooms will be self-contained in a designated hallway to be known as the "fifth-grade center."

"It's a transition in location," Harres said, "and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that's all it is."

Fifth-graders will not change classes as the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders do, and they will not have the same requirements of dressing out for physical education.

"We want to create as similar of a model for the fifth-grade being over here (at the middle school) as what they had at the elementary building," Harres said. "I want this to be a seamless transition -- same teachers, same services, same opportunities."

Relocating the fifth-graders to the middle school will bring some added benefits including art instruction, a separate lunch and recess period and smaller physical education classes, according to Harres.

Fifth-graders will be transported to the middle school next year on busses with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. However, Harres said there will be a designated area on the bus for fifth-graders.

Before and after school care will still be provided to the fifth-graders at the elementary school with bus transportation provided by the district between the two schools.

Kohlenberger said parents weren't properly informed this change was coming. "The only amount of communication that has been initiated was a letter sent to fourth-grade parents," she said. "Some parents had no idea this was anywhere in the works."

Harres said the district has been experiencing issues with its email system and chose last week to send a letter to current fourth-grade parents in the mail. The district will send an email to all parents as soon as the email system was operating again, he said.

The district is seeking input from parents who have concerns about how this change will impact their child, Harres said.

Like Wolf Branch, other school districts in the metro-east have moved fifth-graders to the middle school level. Belle Valley School District 119 Superintendent Louis Obernuefemann said two years ago, the school district moved the fifth grade to the middle school and went to departmentalization, where teams of teachers in the same area work together collaboratively.

"We found it to be highly beneficial," Obernuefemann said. "What it provides our teachers is great in-depth of lessons being presented, which leads to high level of thinking skills."

While Whiteside School District 115 does have fifth-graders in its middle school building, Superintendent Peggy Burke said the fifth-graders operate just as an elementary classroom would.

Burke said the fifth-graders were moved to the middle school building in 2003 as a way to ease overcrowding at the elementary school. "It was mainly done to even out enrollment," she said. "It's worked fine."

Harres said incoming fifth-graders will have a daytime building orientation at the middle school later this month, and a separate evening orientation will also be held for parents of incoming fifth graders.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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