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With so many schools offering different programs at varying levels, some families believe that a school ending in eighth grade actually serves children most effectively. Here are some of the arguments that support that perspective. (The term “K–8” is used generically, though many schools start in pre-K or even preschool.)

Early leadership opportunities

At K–8 schools, middle schoolers get a chance to be “kings and queens of the hill” and to serve the school as leaders. At those schools eighth graders design and publish the school yearbooks. Seventh and eighth graders often plan their own social events; participate in team building and community service activities; and produce, manage, and star in musical and theater productions. Eighth grade students help with open houses and admission tours, and prepare for their own graduation ceremonies. Students in lower grades see middle school students as creative and helpful leaders of the school, and middle school students respond with maturity, confidence, and vision uncommon for their age. That’s the result of taking the lead early on.

A longer childhood

We hear frequently these days that our children grow up too fast. Older adolescents today must confront a litany of concerns, ranging from alcohol and drugs to sexuality or violence. While middle school programs usually include discussions of these and many other “third-rail” topics in advisory programs, it is simply not appropriate to approach these issues for 10- to 13-year-olds as for high schoolers. Middle school kids’ thinking abilities are still developing, and their bodies are not ready for such weighty matters. With high school influence all but nonexistent at K–8 schools, students are often more ingenuous, more likely to engage in healthy, age-appropriate “play,” and more comfortable being kids a few years longer than many of their peers.

Appropriate curriculum development

At K–12 schools, middle schoolers are often treated like the poor stepchildren of their older counterparts. That doesn’t happen at K–8 schools. Teachers and administrators design curriculum in consideration of the unique needs and abilities of middle school children, rather than through a “top-down” system that can regard efficiency as a greater virtue than healthy development. This helps to assure that middle school curriculum at K–8 schools is responsive to the developmental needs and idiosyncrasies of middle school students.

A meaningful choice of high schools

Children change radically in middle school. What seems awkward at 10 may be comfortable at 14; what looks appealing early may lose its luster in a few years. And no matter where a student attends middle school, high school can be a major transition. Students who look for a high school while they are young can miss the joy of self-awareness and discovery that middle school provides. And it is no coincidence that eighth grade is the year when most students have achieved sufficient self-awareness to contribute meaningfully to the process of visiting high schools and understanding their choices. At K–8 schools, staff work with every student, beginning in seventh grade, to identify appropriate high schools and to guide families through the process of applying to independent schools or preparing for the transition to public high school. Virtually all of those graduates enjoy excellent high school placement success. They also emerge confident and capable, each more prepared to select his or her next environment, for ninth grade, college, and beyond.