St. James Ele­men­tary in Port aux Basques com­bines Grades 5 and 6

De­ci­sions on stu­dents as­signed to com­bined class­rooms will be made in Septem­ber

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front page - BY MAR­TINE BLUE

Vanessa Chant, mother of 9-year-old daugh­ter Han­nah, who will start grade five at St. James Ele­men­tary in Port aux Basques in Septem­ber, says she is fine with the English School District’s move to cre­ate a com­bined Grades 5 and 6 class.

Chant her­self ex­pe­ri­enced com­bined grades three times dur­ing her own ele­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion in her home­town of Mar­ga­ree.

“It all worked out fine. We still got taught our reg­u­lar cour­ses that we needed. I don’t see any trou­ble with it at all,” she said.

Han­nah isn’t quite as ac­cept­ing of the idea.

“She doesn’t want to be in a com­bined class,” Chant ex­plained.

“She wants to be in her reg­u­lar Grade 5 class. ‘I want to stay with all my friends,’ she told me. It’s all about the friends,” Chant laughed. “It’s just new and un­known, that’s all.”

The school district plans to have one all Grade 5 class of 25 stu­dents, one all Grade 6 class of 25 stu­dents and a com­bined Grades 5 and 6 class with nine stu­dents from each grade. Chant says she’s had no word yet if Han­nah will be cho­sen to be in the com­bined class.

An in­for­ma­tion meet­ing was held Mon­day, June 11 to ex­plain to par­ents how the dou­ble grade setup would work. Chant says par­ents voiced a few con­cerns.

“How are they go­ing to pick the kids for he com­bined class­rooms? Will it af­fect their learn­ing? Will the Grade 6 kids fall be­hind learn­ing Grade 5 stuff? (The school board) put it all out there and ques­tions were an­swered and most peo­ple said it didn’t sound too bad.”

“How are they go­ing to pick the kids for the com­bined class­rooms? Will it af­fect their learn­ing?”

Vanessa Chant

Can­dace Matthews, whose 10- year- old son, Isaac, will en­ter Grade 6 in Septem­ber, wasn’t able to make that meet­ing but ad­mits she feels “a bit of trep­i­da­tion and con­cern” about the change.

“My big con­cern is that he’s ei­ther in a re­ally big class­room with all Grade sixes or a smaller class­room where the teacher has to teach two cur­ricu­lums and nei­ther of those sit­u­a­tions are ideal,” Matthews said. “I can’t imag­ine it’s an ideal sit­u­a­tion for the ed­u­ca­tors ei­ther.”

Isaac falls on the autism spec­trum, so Matthews hopes he con­tin­ues to re­ceive the ex­tra sup­port he has ex­pe­ri­enced when needed in the past. She takes com­fort in the knowl­edge that the teach­ers at St. James al­ready know the stu­dents.

“They’re not new teach­ers, not new to the school, so they will have the ben­e­fit of know­ing the stu­dents,” she said. “So I would like to think they can make some pretty in­formed de­ci­sions in terms of how to struc­ture those class­rooms, with the re­sources that they have.”

Work­ing proac­tively with the school, Matthews be­lieves, is the key to mak­ing the tran­si­tion as smooth as pos­si­ble if Isaac be­comes one of the stu­dents en­rolled in the com­bined class in Septem­ber.

“We have to be dili­gent in work­ing with the school to iden­tify is­sues way ahead of time, early in the school year,” Matthews stated. “If you iden­tify that your child is not learn­ing like he did in the past, or you’re notic­ing be­hav­ioral is­sues, all those signs that you’re al­ways look­ing for any­way. It’s more about work­ing as a team with the school to find out ways in which you can sup­port this new type of learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. That’s my plan go­ing for­ward is to try to sup­port his learn­ing ob­jec­tives no mat­ter what his class­room looks like.”

Ch­eryl Gul­lage, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for the New­found­land and Labrador English School District, con­firmed this is the first time St. James Ele­men­tary is com­bin­ing grades in an email state­ment to The Gulf News, and that the de­ci­sion was based on en­roll­ment num­bers. A linked in­for­ma­tion guide for par­ents and the pub­lic stated that across Canada over 20 per cent of ele­men­tary school stu­dents are cur­rently in com­bined grade class­rooms and that they are capped at 18 stu­dents.

A school cre­ates a com­bined grade when class caps are reached in a sin­gle grade class and there are ad­di­tional stu­dents, but not enough to make an ex­tra class. When this oc­curs in two con­sec­u­tive grades, a com­bined grade class can be formed. The guide went on to state that “stu­dents in com­bined grades demon­strate stronger lead­er­ship skills, higher self-es­teem, more pos­i­tive peer in­ter­ac­tions, and greater in­de­pen­dence when learn­ing. Younger stu­dents ob­serve and im­i­tate older peers while older stu­dents show lead­er­ship skills re­lated to be­hav­ior, re­spon­si­bil­ity, and peer teach­ing. Stu­dents de­velop con­fi­dence and im­por­tant so­cial skills when they have op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­ter­act with peers who are not in the same grade.”

De­ci­sions as to which stu­dents will be cho­sen for the com­bined class will be fi­nal­ized in Septem­ber and will be based on a num­ber of fac­tors in­clud­ing learn­ing styles, so­cial skills, aca­demic strengths and needs, emo­tional de­vel­op­ment, peer re­la­tion­ships, gen­der, and stu­dent in­ter­ests.


Can­dace Matthews, mother of a Grade 6 stu­dent feels “a bit of trep­i­da­tion and con­cern” about the N.L. English School District’s move to com­bine grades five and six.


St. James Ele­men­tary in Port aux Basques.


Can­dace Matthews with her son, Isaac.

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