Parental placement preferences for elementary school children
The school year has just begun. My eight-year-old son returned home from school on the first day to report that he was in a split grade, and had no friends in his class from last year. We are worried about the split grade concept and feel badly that our son is not with his friends. Do you think the school would do anything if we approach the principal this week?
Dear Disappointed Parent,
From my experience, educators go to a lot of trouble to assign the children to the best working groups possible. If a split grade is required because of the numbers in the school and the pupil-teacher ratios allowed, the staff often attempts to put children from the upper grade who are academically average or weak with children from the lower grade who are academically average to strong.
In addition, independent workers are usually chosen for this kind of class because of the extra workload for the educator teaching two programs of study. While delivering the upper grade a lesson, the children in the lower grade will be expected to work on their own or in groups much of that time. So too, when the children in the lower grade are being instructed, the children in the upper grade will be expected to handle their work on their own and not to interrupt the lesson being taught to the other group.
As well, some subjects from the two grades will be handled together, so having a group of children that is more homogeneous in ability, creates a better instructional mix. Subjects such as art or health, music or writing composition might fall into this category.
Children who require a lot of individual attention are not usually placed in a split grade.
While you may be worried about this placement for your son from an academic point of view, you can rest assured that these classes function very well and your child will advance in his knowledge and work habits without any particular disadvantage because of the split.
With regards to your son not having any special friends from last year in his grouping, may I suggest he see it as an opportunity to make new friends. It never ceased to amaze me when I was a teacher how quickly children formed alternate connections and playgroups. Usually within a week, you would never know a child was upset about his placement because of the absence of a special friend from the year before. As a parent, you can foster these different friendships by arranging play dates and asking the teacher to provide opportunities in class for your son to mix with youngsters she thinks might make good chums.
May I also suggest you make opportunities for your son to see his old buddies after school and on weekends. You might consider signing him up for extracurricular activities with them or having playdates at your home.
While you are free to approach the principal to ask for a change of placement, I rather doubt that this will occur as a lot of thought goes into the groupings that currently exist months before the start of school. I think you would need a very special reason to change the class, as I have rarely seen it done at this time of year. If you have concerns next year about the same issues arising, may I suggest you approach the school in April or May when the groupings are being arranged. It might be possible to have some influence on the placement of your son at that time.
May your son have an excellent year with in-person learning in his split grade, with new companions.
I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.