Eighth grade acceleration: helpful or stressful?

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Eighth grade acceleration: helpful or stressful?

Inside the English Concepts Center, teaching assistant Rose Rouner works on her laptop. Rouner spends most of her mornings answering emails for parents of students in the Eighth Grade Acceleration program.

Inside the English Concepts Center, teaching assistant Rose Rouner works on her laptop. Rouner spends most of her mornings answering emails for parents of students in the Eighth Grade Acceleration program. "A lot of it is getting information to the parents or just answering questions,” Rouner said. “Some of it has to do with communication between teachers and parents, like about registration for the following year or having an information meeting coming up."

Caroline Judd

Inside the English Concepts Center, teaching assistant Rose Rouner works on her laptop. Rouner spends most of her mornings answering emails for parents of students in the Eighth Grade Acceleration program. "A lot of it is getting information to the parents or just answering questions,” Rouner said. “Some of it has to do with communication between teachers and parents, like about registration for the following year or having an information meeting coming up."

Caroline Judd

Caroline Judd

Inside the English Concepts Center, teaching assistant Rose Rouner works on her laptop. Rouner spends most of her mornings answering emails for parents of students in the Eighth Grade Acceleration program. "A lot of it is getting information to the parents or just answering questions,” Rouner said. “Some of it has to do with communication between teachers and parents, like about registration for the following year or having an information meeting coming up."

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While their peers are just waking up in the morning, a select group of accelerated eighth graders are already sitting in their first period in a high school classroom. For the last seven years, through the Eighth Grade Acceleration program, students have been attending high school to take advanced math and science courses.

“The kids come over [to] the high school [because] the idea is that they’ve run out of classes over at the middle school. Any student who really needs to come over and take either Biology, Geometry, Honors Biology or Honors Geometry can do so, if they need it, which is when they’ve met the requirements down at the middle school,” teaching assistant Rose Rouner said.

Many of these students are from the MOSAICS Academy program and have been together in classes since the third grade.

“It’s a nice transition for them to come to West High prior to high school and be in classes with students who challenge them. It’s good for them to be in a variety of learning environments,” Rouner said.

Due to the growth of the program, the eighth-grade students were split up into two Honors Biology classes with two different Biology teachers this year.

“I think the best part [of the accelerated program] is to enable the younger gifted students to be able to take all of our accelerated science courses,” Biology teacher Sally Soulier said. “That means if they’re starting early, they don’t have to make so many hard decisions about which classes not to take. They can take more classes because they started one year earlier.”

It’s a nice transition for them to come to West High prior to high school and be in classes with students who challenge them. It’s good for them to be in a variety of learning environments.”

— Rose Rouner

Despite the focus of the program on accelerated classes, the transitions for freshman Salam Hadji were not solely academic.

“[The most difficult part about being at high school as an eighth grader was] in the middle school, when you’re in the same classes as other people your age, they relate to you and talk to you more,” Hadji said. “When you’re taking Honors Geometry and Honors Biology, they sometimes distinguish you as being better than them so they kind of isolate you, and then you don’t get to talk to them or you don’t get to hang out with other people.”

After one semester into freshman year, Hadji is thankful she was a part of this program.

“[The program] helped me know what I need to gear towards. It also helped me know my passion for things because last year I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but now I know what I want to be, because of those classes,” Hadji said. “I want to be a doctor because [of] Biology. At first, it was hard for me, but then I realized ‘hey, this is fun!’ My mom also always wanted me to be a doctor and then I realized this is actually what I want to be.”

While there are certain academic benefits, this program can be concerning socially and mentally.

I’m not criticizing students about taking advanced classes, but I do feel like every student, every parent, every teacher, every administrator ought to be considering the total volume of work hours that the student is expected to be doing, and we should sometimes advise kids to say ‘no’ to doing too much,”

— Sally Soulier

A concern that I have applies not only to the accelerated honors program for MOSAICS students but for all of our accelerated students. When a student shows themselves to be capable and hardworking, I think sometimes we say ‘oh, well you can do more. If you can do this much, then you can do more.’ I feel like at times it’s never-ending. No matter how much you can do, there is more that you can do,” Soulier said.

Soulier worries that students are being overburdened with too high of expectations.

“I’m not criticizing students about taking advanced classes, but I do feel like every student, every parent, every teacher, every administrator ought to be considering the total volume of work hours that the student is expected to be doing, and we should sometimes advise kids to say ‘no’ to doing too much,” Soulier said.  

These kids have to navigate a longer school day, a more challenging course load and an extra bus ride in the middle of the day. Rouner tries to make sure that everything goes smoothly with the overall transition from middle school to high school for both the students and their parents.

“I wish people knew that just because kids are in higher level classes doesn’t mean that everything comes easy to them,” Rouner said. “These students are smart, but being smart doesn’t make other skills easier. Just like other students, they have to learn time management, organization, good study habits and how to manage stress, in order to be successful in the classroom.”

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