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

St. James Elementary in Port aux Basques.
St. James Elementary in Port aux Basques. - J. R. Roy

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

PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. - 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. 

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. - Submitted
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. - Submitted

“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.”

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. 

Candace Matthews with her son, Isaac. - Submitted
Candace Matthews with her son, Isaac. - Submitted

“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.

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