Oak Manor teachers, students thriving in multi-age setting

Published 4:35 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Oak Manor Elementary School is taking new steps to ensure that all of their upper elementary students get the best education possible.
The school has introduced a program called "Multi-age Classrooms," which all fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the school participate in. A multi-age classroom means two or more grade levels have been brought together to improve learning.
Although new to Oak Manor, the program is an age-old grouping method which research has proven to be very successful.
Teachers at the school say the multi-age program will allow them to recognize the individual learning styles, strengths and rates of growth for each student.
Because of the grouping, the normal gap in performance level between students is also made smaller, which allows the teachers to help their students better because they can focus on curriculum they know all of their students are capable of learning.
Kari Stamm is one of five teachers at the school involved with the new program.
She also thinks learning is enhanced through the flexible grouping of students.
A main component of the multiage classroom is, rather than being "promoted" once a year, students taking part in the program make continuous progress.
Stamm, who taught for a year in a multi-age classroom setting at Harrison Elementary School in South Bend, Ind., said many of the students she taught there improved their reading level.
In addition to the improved learning environment, Stamm also said older students seem to be taking more responsibility for the younger students.
That has the effect of making the class feel more like a team, she said.
She said the older students also help the younger ones with homework and assignments, while at the same time being good role models.
But although the program appear to be good for the students, Nick Jankoviak, one of the five multiage classroom teachers, also thinks its good for the teachers.
That's because the teachers have experience from teaching at different grade levels and therefore it becomes natural to seek advice when in the process of planning a class.
Like Stamm, he has seen the older students take more responsibility and become coaches for the younger students.
With any new program, Jankoviak thinks there are parents who were excited, but also some that were skeptical to the multiage classroom program
In education, however, there's always new research being done to improve education and new things for teachers and schools to try out, he said.
Robin Hadrick, Oak Manor principal, hopes to see improved test scores for the 4, 5 and 6 grade students by the end of the year.
But although test scores are important to determine the success of any educational program, Hadrick said teachers will also evaluate behavior and conduct.
She hopes there will be a decrease in behavioral deferral, or, in other words, students being sent to the principals office.
Hadrick said surveys will be sent out to parents at the end of the school year where they can comment on how they think the program is for their child or children.
A new program like the multiage classroom, apart from trying to give students a better education, is also an effort to meet new demands required by changes in the educational system, Hadrick said.
She mentioned the controversial No Child Left Behind policy as one of those changes.
The Oak Manor staff used last year's NWEA testing results and teacher recommendations to determine student placement.
Although the classroom will be multiage, during MEAP test taking students must be divided by grade level.