My son is finishing up his first year in a MultiAge School Program and I couldn’t be happier.
One thing I have noticed is just how many people have never heard of the MultiAge School Program option.
Is it you? Are you one of them? Well then please read on! Even if you have heard, please keep reading because it is a move you can always make, it doesn’t need to start in Kindergarten.
I promise I’m about to explain what it is for those that don’t know and tell you why I love it. But first the disclaimer:
I’m not an educator. In my life I have worked in some alternative education settings but I did not study education nor do I have a degree in it. I am a therapist and understand mental health and what makes children and adults thrive. I’m also a mom. (Phew, otherwise I’m contributing to the wrong collective!) This post may be helpful to you even if you are not local as there may be a wonderful MultiAge School Program in your area as well.
Okay, so the background on MultiAge School Programs:
Based on the research I have done, MultiAge classrooms started in the 19th century with single schoolhouse rooms for all ages. But in the modern context and mainstream schooling that I’m referring to, they became popular in the 1960s. You heard me right, 60 years ago and you were today years old when you learned about it! Why??
These programs have thrived for decades with just as amazing if not better test scores than a single grade class. Even with no homework.
You heard me… I said NO HOMEWORK! And just an aside: if you or someone you know is stressed out with the amount of homework your kid is being asked to complete at any age, I encourage you to check out the research on benefits (there are very few) of homework and to speak out to your school. Things need to change. I didn’t want that pressure for me or my son especially in Kindergarten, so that has been a huge plus.
A MultiAge School Program is different from split classes or what is commonly referred to as combo classes.
A 2nd/3rd grade combo class for example may exist more due to numbers of students and faculty than a conscious choice on the part of the school and parents that enroll their children in the MultiAge School Program.
So, MultiAge. The best way I can explain it is to describe our program which is one of only a couple in all of Orange County. Again, why??
Many of the students in this program are district transfers, as we are. We are willing to drive 20 minutes to school for the next 8+ years because we believe so much in this program. I’m going to do my best to explain it from my perspective but I recommend checking out the website: Rolling Hills Elementary is a public (ie, this program is FREE) school in the Fullerton School District.
The program is called MP3 and it is for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Then kids graduate to the upper grade program. There are two teachers and at most about 15 kids per grade.
Before I give you my description, here is how our amazing hands-on, totally accessible Principal Mrs. Faur described it to me:
“A shared learning community is at the core of the class. Students in the class help each other by modeling critical thinking, collaboration, and resilience. The students spend four years together with 2 teachers who have a full understanding of your child’s strength and push them to succeed academically and socially.”
The teachers have a main focus (K/1 and 2/3) but at times all grades are together.
These teachers are MAGIC! I’m not kidding, I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’ve never seen a group of students who appear to be more engaged, safe, loved, and excited to learn. Every time I talk to Mrs. Mack I feel like I received an injection of confidence and peace, and I’m the parent!
It is like my own mini therapy session…and that’s saying a lot coming from a therapist!
I have cried tears of happiness and felt like my heart was going to burst multiple times this year, which has been a breath of fresh air from all the unwanted tears of this crazy past year. The teachers of MP3 are always reminding the parents their first priority is that the students feel safe and love and enjoy learning. I asked Mrs. Mack what one of her favorite things about MP3 is. I’m sure it was hard to answer because it is easy to see how much she loves her job. She said,
“It really is such a privilege to teach this way. We really get to know the kids and their families. We bond and build a community.”
Split classes are known for benefits like older kids having an opportunity to learn leadership skills as well as students building strong bonds for learning by having the same teacher for two years.
MultiAge School Programs have these benefits doubled if you think about it. However, I think the greater benefit is all the amazing learning and living opportunities. What I mean by this is the creativity and breadth of activities gives all kinds of learners and all levels of learners a chance to express themselves and thrive.
This was the example that was given to me when I was considering the program:
Imagine a student in a single grade classroom is given the assignment of writing a journal about their weekend and they want to say it was ‘extraordinary.’ Well that is a hard word to spell and they don’t want to get marked down, so they write, ‘my weekend was good.’ That student didn’t get to fully express themselves. But concepts and assignments are given in MP3 with more flexibility and freedom of expression. The kids write, draw, talk things out, sing, and dance. There is an element of going at their own pace that ignites a creativity and drive in my son and the others that is remarkable to watch. He has grown academically, socially, emotionally. He has become quite the problem solver and innovator.
Oh and the special programs!
There is a garden and a musical that rivals community theatre. Yes you heard me again, K-3 doing a full-on amazing production. They do so many creative projects even during COVID I can’t name them all. One of the amazing MP3 parents made a video that gives you a virtual tour of what I’m talking about. You can check it out here:
So let’s talk about the parents for a minute. Have you been wondering what MP3 stands for?
It is MultiAge Parent Participation Program.
Wait! Don’t stop reading and don’t get scared. I say that because I know I was! We are a household with two full-time working parents and playing make believe is not my strong suit. My first question was, “can the parent be a grandparent?” The answer was yes, any adult in the student’s life. But more importantly the participation is more about the communication and community than actually being in the classroom (even before COVID).
A friend who has had multiple kids in the program talked with me about her take as a busy working mom as well. By the way her oldest didn’t start MP3 until 3rd grade and she said it was the best decision they could have made. She said the best thing about the program is that it creates “good citizens” and I would agree, as I know young adults that went through the program as well who are still “good citizens.” She said the actual “parent participation” is secondary to the community and priorities that are created by the type of parents and staff that are willing to participate and work together.
We agreed that the MP3 culture is a culture and community that we are proud to be a part of.
I really can’t say enough about how wonderful this program has been in our lives. (As you can see since I’m pretty sure this is my longest post to date.) I guess I wanted to share as a way I could participate more as a parent and maybe relieve some of the stress other moms may be feeling about their children’s schooling. Also because all kidding aside, I am discouraged that more people don’t know this is an option and that it is not accessible in every district because it is so beneficial to the kids academically and emotionally.
There are still spots open in MP3 (but I don’t know for how long so check it out soon) and we would love to have you as part of our community!