Taking a new approach to teaching

Enrollment, staff numbers leave age out of the equation

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School officials in south Routt say that parents of first and second grade students at South Routt Elementary next year will have a unique option to place their child in a multi-age class.

The South Routt School District recently decided it will combine a first and second grade class and teach a multi-age curriculum because enrollment numbers are down.

South Routt Elementary School principal Troy Zabel said since enrollment numbers from kindergarten to third grade have dropped at the school and a third-grade teacher will be resigning at the end of the year, moving to offer a multi-age class was a logical choice.

"But it's important to point out that moving to the multi-age class should not only be looked at as a financial benefit," Zabel said.

The class will cater to the "focus on the individual" theory in teaching that the school recently adopted with its reading and writing portions of the curriculum.

Zabel explained that in the multi-age class, the teacher will teach more on an individual basis, not teaching one level of the curriculum to the whole class.

"We'll focus on education level, not age," Zabel said.

"It's a nice situation for them to go along on their own level," teacher Kim Raybon said.

Raybon will teach the multi-age class and the 15-year veteran to the classroom will be a key element in the success of the program, Zabel said.

From research Zabel did while getting his masters degree, he concluded that the only constant element in the success of students in a multi-age classroom is the teacher. He said Raybon is up for the job.

But there still are pros and cons with multi age classrooms.

"As far as multi-age and traditional, I won't say on is better than the other," Zabel said.

Jane Miles hasn't made a final decision one whether to put her twin girls in the multi-age class, or move them up to second grade. But she admits she is leaning to the traditional class.

"They've really come a long way, but I think (my children) need the competitiveness of moving forward," Miles said. "I can't say this is what works, but this is what works for my two."

Parent Sonja Norris was initially undecided about the multi-age class. However, she then realized that her daughter has been in multi-age classes since preschool, so the change shouldn't be that dramatic.

"Plus, I have all the faith in the world in Kim Raybon, so I want my daughter in the class," she said.

One important asset of multi-age classes, Zabel explained, is the long-term student-teacher relationship that's formed. Ideally, a first grader will return the next year to get their second grade education in the same class.

The second year, "the teacher doesn't have to take all that time getting to know the students and where they are at," Zabel said. "Plus, the students will know the expectations of the teacher."

Obviously, the down side to that is when a student has a bad relationship with the teacher, he said.

"That will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis," Zabel said.

Another important element to consider is the relationship between the older students and the younger students.

"Developmentally, there is a difference in the kids," Raybon said.

Ideally, school officials want the younger students to look up to the older children in the classroom.

"It will give the older kids some leadership ability," Zabel said.

That phenomenon could be difficult to create right away. But Raybon said she sees it as a challenge that she'll gladly take on.

"I think building a strong classroom community will make the kids feel comfortable," Raybon said.

Parents are still choosing whether they want their child in the multi-age class.

"We're trying to be real open with everything and give the parents a choice," Zabel said.

Next year there will be one first grade class, one second grade class and one multi-age class. Each will have about 16 students in them.

Zabel said there will be an informational meeting for parents sometime in the next few weeks to answer any further questions parents might have.

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