When proposing our initial innovation zone ideas to the school board nearly a year and a half ago, Andy and I planned to begin with a mix of 6th and 7th grade students. We knew it was something we wanted to include in the program development for various reasons. It was somewhat of a blessing in disguise when we were encouraged to scale back our vision in the first year, resulting in a group of 25 6th grade students. It was a great way to begin, to build those initial relationships and to work out any major kinks in our plans for the first year.
Heading into year two, I knew I was excited to see the split-grade approach in action, but I wasn’t sure how well nervous 6th graders would blend with “matured” 7th graders. After only one week of school, I am beyond thrilled about the things I am noticing for both grade levels. First of all, our 7th grade students have truly stepped up, with very little direction from us. They are meeting with their 6th grade buddies daily, sharing and explaining procedures and expectations, supporting and encouraging those around them during challenging times, and modeling appropriate behaviors and attitudes. They are completely different kids!
Our 6th grade crew has brought a new burst of energy to our space. They are excited about middle school, meeting new people, working independently, and beginning their very own passion projects! Expectations, procedures, and appropriate behaviors demonstrated by our 7th graders are allowing our 6th graders to adjust accordingly and far more quickly than I anticipated!
Today was our first day jumping into passion projects, where our students are brainstorming ideas for new inventions to help solve everyday problems that exist around us. They all have the choice to work independently, in pairs, or in a group of three. We have numerous split-grade groups formed already, with several students excited about working independently. I am impressed with and proud of the peer-to-peer learning taking place around me, and I am looking forward to seeing what this split-grade group accomplishes together this year!