I sent my letter out to my homeroom students two weeks ago (it is my 2nd posting on this blog). The first round of responses were these questions, "Umm... Mr. M., why are we with 7th graders?" "Why is our grade split up when we there are 13 students in our 7th grade?" and "How are we going to bond as a class if we are with kids who are not in our grade?"
My first thought was... oops!
With all the planning and designing by the teachers and administrators, a communication glitch occurred; the students were not told ahead of time that this was going to happen. Yes, the teachers were told and yes, the parents were informed and bought into it. But, a "head's up" to a (if not the) very important stakeholder group - the kids - never happened.
My next thought was... ok, how should this be fixed? I first had to ask myself, "Well, why are the grades mixed?"
Below is what I shared with them (and their parents and the teachers):
Erev tov (good evening) my ambitious homeroom students,
I am enjoying reading your responses to the journal assignments I asked you to do for the first day of school. A common question that I have seen is, "Why are the 7th and 8th graders mixed into two homerooms instead of being separate by grade?"
My first response to you is this: I am sorry for not giving you a head's up about it before school let out. This idea was formed in the Spring, and presented to both the teachers and your parents. Yet, it was never brought to you guys - and this impacts you! Duh! I have learned as a teacher, former principal, father, and husband to say when I make a mistake, "You are right. I am sorry. Please let me help fix it," (I learned these lines from Professor Randy Pausch, whom I will share more of his teachings with you later this year).
Now, to answer your question. Part of the school's mission and vision is to help foster a sense of a kehillah (community) in our Kehillat Halutzim. Why? To help enlarge our circle of friends and classmates. To concretize our sense of what it means to be part of a larger group and how each individual is valued. To learn from one another (the 8th graders have a lot of wisdom and experience to pass on to the 7th graders, and the 7th graders will see what is in store for 8th grade directly and have a voice as to how they want their 8th grade to be). Some of you already have connections with kids in the other grade, but not everyone does. For those of you who do, have you ever thought about how it impacts you to have friends in the other grade? For those of you who do not, have you thought about what you might be missing? (In a separate note, I will share a blog response from a new colleague who talks about what it means to be "a new student" for in a sense each of you is now a new student because you are in a mixed grade homeroom).
In years' past, the only time we were physically together were: lunch, recess, and tifillot (prayer) twice a week. That's it. The rest of the time, we were separate by grade and for those of you who were in 7th grade last year, we were separate by sections (think about it... how many times were you together as a grade let alone as a Kehillah compared to a section?). But, to be blunt, we didn't meet our goal last year. So, we're trying this.
What exactly does it mean and what will it look like? Structurally, we will have a short homeroom period each day. Additionally, we will have a Kehillah period once a week. But, what we do will depend on you all. We will play games, have some discussions, and have the opportunity to learn from one another. The hope and dream is that we are more connected in June and that we are able to value each individuals' contributions to the group.
At the same time, we value each grade's individuality and know that there are unique concerns for each grade (e.g., 8th grade spends a lot of time preparing for the transition to high-school and for the Israel trip and 7th grade spends time talking about bnei-mitzvah and bonding as a class). So, once a week, in addition to classes, there will be opportunity for each grade to meet as a whole to discuss those and other issues, in addition to playing grade-building games. Additionally, the privileges associated with each grade will remain as they have been.
Before I end, I want to say the following two things: I promise to work very hard WITH YOU to make this year the best year ever for you guys. And I promise to do a better job communicating with you. As I believe, we are all learners (teachers and students, adults and kids) and it is through our mistakes that we learn best!
If you have any questions, please email me.