By Celine Klosterman
WASHINGTON – After Washington Community Schools announced plans to move sixth grade from an elementary school to a junior high school next academic year, St. James School initially considered eliminating its sixth grade.
Instead, the Catholic PreK-6 school will combine fifth- and sixth-graders into one classroom beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
St. James’ Board of Education made the decision in December after seeking input from parents. In an October survey, the parents of six of the 12 fifth-graders at St. James said their students would attend the Catholic school this fall. During a parent meeting last month, several attendees also voiced concerns about Catholic sixth-graders in a public school missing out on Mass and faith-based instruction.
“It’s pretty tough to tell parishioners we’re not going to offer a Catholic education if they want it,” said Mike Driscoll, board president.
Because St. James will offer a combined fifth- and sixth-grade classroom, the school will eliminate one teaching position. Principal Teresa Beenblossom said she hopes the position will be lost through teacher attrition.
Washington Community Schools are realigning grades as the district prepares to open a new high school this fall. At that time, sixth, seventh and eighth grades will move into what’s currently the high school building.
Next year, St. James will evaluate whether to continue educating sixth-graders in the 2013-14 academic year. In the October survey, the parents of one of the 12 fourth-graders said their child would attend sixth grade at the parochial school.
Beenblossom said the combined classroom will rely on differentiated instruction, tailoring education to individual students’ abilities as well as grade level. St. James already has brought fifth- and sixth-graders together for classes such as science and social studies. Driscoll, a former St. James student, recalled the school having combined fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes in the 1980s.
For parents Paul and Lynn Horak, how St. James offers a sixth-grade education is less important than keeping Catholic instruction available, Paul Horak said. The couple’s fifth-grade daughter will attend the school next year, following in the footsteps of her older brother and sister.
At St. James, students attend Mass together weekly, learn about their religion and can receive Christ-centered guidance on a math problem or playground scuffle, Lynn Horak said. Such advantages take precedence over reasons to send Catholic children elsewhere, she continued. “Our two older children have had absolutely no difficulty adjusting to public school life after attending St. James School. We personally think that they are more confident and better prepared after attending Catholic schools.”
Theresa Hora, mother of a fifth-grade son at St. James, said she thinks it’s important for students to stay at the school as long as they can. “I can see a big difference between sixth and seventh grade in terms of maturity, confidence and being ready for public school.”
While some fifth-grade companions will be separated at different schools next year, “they see their friends in community activities,” Hora said. “We’re a small community.
“I feel very positive about keeping the Catholic school for the kids as long as we can.”