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Grosse Pointe Woods

January 23, 2013

Multi-age program offers unique opportunities for students

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — When most people picture an elementary school classroom, they might imagine a room full of second-graders learning solely from their teacher, but there is a classroom in Grosse Pointe that works a bit differently.

The district is hosting an open house for its multi-age program housed at Trombly Elementary at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 in Trombly’s library, 820 Beaconsfield.

Multi-age learning is a program that allows students to not only learn from the teacher, but from one another. In Grosse Pointe,  it’s a program for first- to third-grade students.

“Our district’s multi-age classroom is an intentional mix of children of various ages, readiness levels, learning styles and personalities (with) instruction flowing from the basis of continuous progress,” the district states on its website. “(It is) designed to help students develop autonomy, where children benefit from working with a consistent group of students for three years.”

The program is one that creates “an environment where students are provided an opportunity to grow into student leaders and peer mentors,” the website states.

The information on the district’s website emphasizes that it is not a split-grade style of program, however.

“The basic structure of a true multi-age learning environment is one in which the teacher views the entire class as one learning community and which supports students staying with the same teacher for more than one year,” stated an informational document that Trombly Principal Walter Fitzpatrick emailed about the program.

It’s a program that launched several years ago in the district.

“Mary O’Meara and former Assistant Superintendent Susan Allan brought the multi-age program to the district as a pilot project 15 years ago,” District Community Relations Specialist Rebecca Fannon said in an email. “It has been housed at Trombly but is a district-wide program.”

Grosse Pointe Park resident Beth Newhart’s son is a student in the class. She and her husband, Lee Johnson, chose the program for their son for a number of reasons.

“Adam was at a Montessori preschool prior to kindergarten and did well,” she said in an email. “It suited his learning style. Although multi-age is different, there are more similarities in learning than you would see in a traditional classroom. He also works well with older children and likes to help others. So the dynamic was there.”

Newhart liked that her son could learn at a pace that benefits him.

“He’s extremely interested in math, and although he is doing his ‘level’ of work in class, he spies on the advanced groups and picks things up,” she said. “It keeps him motivated. Reading and writing aren’t his strong suits, but again, he watches others and learns.”

While Newhart’s son benefits from those working at a more advanced level, he can help others, as well.

“He’s in second grade now, so he’s in a transition,” she said.  “He’s no longer the new kid and can help some of the younger students, but he still gets help along the way.”

When he moves up to the highest level of third grade, Newhart believes the benefits will continue.

“Next year, I think we’ll see a great deal of independence and confidence,” she said.

Newhart said her son likes the program, and it’s good that he gets a level of consistency from year to year.

“I think it was quite comforting to know that, when he returned to school this year, he knew most of the kids sitting around him, and a very familiar face was at the front of the class,” she said. “The continuity really helps in the beginning of the year.

“He also likes being able to do work geared toward his abilities,” Newhart said of her son. “Give him too little, and he’s into mischief. Give him respectable expectations, and he digs in. We couldn’t believe all that he accomplished last year.”

The program has had such a positive impact on Newhart’s son, she has plans to put her 4-year-old in the multi-age classroom when she is in first grade.

She encourages other parents to take a look at the program and see if it would be beneficial for their children.

“The benefits of the class depend on the child,” Newhart said. “For those suited to this type of learning, they can take pride as their stronger subjects flourish. For the subjects that take more effort, there’s always someone around who can help. And in the end, there’s a greater sense of independence with their learning.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.