Volume 19 • Issue 17 | September 8 - 14, 2006

Back to School 2006

Sixth grade is now in middle school, at least in District 1

By David Spett

With the Sept. 5 opening of public schools, sixth grade is now a part of middle school in Manhattan’s District 1.

Moving sixth grade from elementary to middle school is part of a steady trend, in both the city and the nation, to give sixth graders more independence. At most middle schools, students have multiple teachers and switch classrooms for each subject, whereas elementary school students have primarily one teacher.

The Department of Education tried to move District 1 sixth graders to middle school last year, parents said, but facing opposition the department decided to postpone the changes until this year.

“They were not making a lot of sense in terms of what the plans were going to look like,” said Lisa Donlan, whose son is in the first sixth-grade class at Tompkins Square Middle School.

Alicia Maxey, a D.O.E. spokesperson, did not comment on the changes, but parents gave mixed reviews.

The city does not have a strong middle-school program and it needed to better fund the schools before integrating sixth grade, said Harvey Epstein, vice president of the Neighborhood School P.T.A. and former chairperson of Community Board 3. He called middle schools “the lost stepchild” of the city’s education system. He said the sixth graders he knows aren’t ready for the challenges and independence of middle school.

“From my experience, most sixth graders are still emotionally in a state where they’re in elementary school, and they’re not mature enough to be in a middle school,” Epstein said. “The sixth graders I’ve encountered are still elementary school kids.”

Donlan, while unenthusiastic about her son being in the first sixth-grade class at his school, said she is more optimistic about the changes.

“I felt highly comfortable with the school my child’s going to,” she said, noting that District 1 offers school choice to parents and that she chose Tompkins Square Middle School. Still, she said, “We really wanted to make sure the region was doing the work to support the principals and the schools to accommodate” the changes.

Donlan expressed concern over a delivery of about 150 chairs at 7 a.m. on Sept. 5 but said she hopes the situation with sixth graders will smooth out as the year progresses.


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