Elizabeth (not her real name) did not make the seventh-grade Lewis-Palmer Middle School volleyball team this year. She was one of 35 seventh-grade girls trying out for 12 spots on the team. Only 10 years ago, Elizabeth and 23 other girls would have had the chance to “make the team” because there were two teams. District 38 had two middle schools between 2001-2009 serving sixth- through eighth-grade students.
Only since 2010 have sixth graders been housed at D38 elementary schools. Creekside Middle School became Bear Creek Elementary School in 2010 and addressed the need for an elementary school in the Jackson Creek area. This was always meant to be a temporary solution to area growth.
Historically, D38 has utilized a middle school model serving sixth-eighth grade students. Currently, D38 has five satellite programs with each elementary school serving district sixth graders. An optimal middle school learning experience with access to extracurricular exploratory classes and various opportunities for connection is more difficult to provide with sixth graders at various locations.
Today, there is not an LPMS space large enough to hold the entire school population for assemblies, guest speakers and continuation ceremonies. The large gym barely holds a single grade level. There is one flexible classroom space that an academic team can share for whole team activities — one space shared between eight academic teams. When D38 had two middle schools, the ratio was one flexible learning space shared between two teams. These spaces now serve as classrooms.
The middle school teaming model builds cohesion among both students and teachers. The size of LPMS limits the ability of students and teachers to connect within grade levels and with peers. Some students are not able to see their closest friends during the day. Middle school is not high school — neither is it elementary school. Middle schoolers are transitioning into young adults and making decisions which affect their futures. Students are more likely to stay in school and actively participate in their learning when they experience connection. Limited opportunities for students can lead to disengagement during this crucial stage of development.
It is more difficult for LPMS students to earn spots on athletic teams, in the school play, in the band, and among student council leadership than it is at either D38 high school, where grade level student counts are smaller. LPMS provides every connection opportunity it can to their students in and out of the classroom in the two years students fill those halls. It should not be harder to make a seventh-grade team than it is to make a freshman team.
In my capacity as a public employee, I am precluded from expressing my opinion about bond measure 4A. However, I urge everyone in our community to take the necessary steps to get the information you need when casting your vote. Regardless of where this issue lands in November, we all need to evaluate the impact our adult decisions have on the learning opportunities and experiences that we provide for each Elizabeth.
Dr. KC Somers is superintendent of Lewis-Palmer School District 38.