A proposal to move sixth grade out of the district’s elementary schools and into the junior high school is going before the Mount Union Area School Board for a vote Monday night.
The special voting session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the high school library. The board’s monthly workshop meeting will follow.
If the proposal garners board approval, the plan will go into effect next school year, meaning students who wrap up sixth grade and fifth grade this June will start classes at the junior high in the fall.
The public raised their concerns and shard comments during an information session held April 3 in the high school auditorium. In addition, Superintendent Dr. Amy Smith shared national and local data, plus the proposed sixth grade schedule and information on potential benefits to students and the district as a whole. The session concluded with a building tour.
While district officials site cost savings, building space, student opportunity and curriculum alignment as primary motives for the proposed move, parent Patti Veitch says not all students are emotionally ready to take the junior high leap.
Veitch, whose has sons in fifth grade and kindergarten at Mount Union-Kistler Elementary School, said she sees differences in maturity levels among her older son’s classmates and believes the district may be pushing some children into junior high school too soon.
“Some students are definitely ready but some are not,” said Veitch, who also has a son in 11th grade at MUAHS and one who is a district graduate. “It doesn’t do any disservice to the kids who are ready to keep them at the elementary school for another year, but it does a big disservice to the kids who aren’t ready.”
Veitch, among parents who attended the April 3 session, said her initial response to the proposal was mixed as she weighed the administration’s data against her own family’s concerns. Now, having reviewed studies produced by Duke University and by the Philadelphia school system, Veitch said she stands opposed to the move, saying those studies suggest a correlation between disciplinary and academic issues and moving sixth grade from an elementary to a middle school setting.
Veitch continued that if the district and school board believe the shift is in the best interest of the district as a whole, she wishes they’d have given students and parents more time to prepare.
“Up until this point, with less than two months to go in the current school year, our kids have operated under the assumption they were moving up to sixth grade next year in their current familiar location, the elementary school,” she said. “Going from having one or two teachers with differing expectations to having seven teachers with differing expectations is not something we as parents can prepare them for over summer break.”
Smith points out 75 percent of school districts nationwide include sixth grade in a middle school or junior high program, as do a majority of the school districts served by the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit. At the moment, MUASD is the only district in Huntingdon County where sixth grade is an elementary grade.
Smith said the proposal includes special provisions for sixth graders, including their own lunch period and locating all sixth grades classes and lockers within the same area of the building.
Further, she said the junior high would switch to a seven-period day, instead of eight periods like the senior high school which will ensure younger pupils are not passing though the hallways at the same time as senior high students.