All of the community’s public school Grade 4 to Grade 7 students are now grouped together at Twain Sullivan. (Anqelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

All of the community’s public school Grade 4 to Grade 7 students are now grouped together at Twain Sullivan. (Anqelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

Grade shuffle proving beneficial for students, teachers

Silverthorne now K-3, Twain Sullivan 4 - 7

Students, teachers and staffers are settling in at Silverthorne and Twain Sullivan following a decision by the School District 54 school board this year to shuffle their grades as of this fall.

No longer is each a K-7 school as Silverthorne is now K-3 and Twain Sullivan 4-7.

It’s a move that had been talked about for at least 20 years and one which intensified in the past several years with position papers presented by the school district.

“I can tell you there’s a real family feel now at the schools,” said school district superintendent Mike McDiarmid of the decision.

Teachers and staff at each school do not have to spread their resources out over eight instructional levels and can now focus in on fewer grades.

“It’s working out better than we thought,” said McDiarmid of the situation at both schools despite a few bumps along the way.

The addition to Silverthorne, thanks to a renovation of its west wing, of Beanstalk Childcare licensed spaces adds to the school now being a centre for early education, he added.

“That’s been very positive,” McDiarmid emphasized in pointing out that those who start in daycare can transition to school within the familiar atmosphere of the same building.

Having Beanstalk move in to the renovated west wing thanks to a $1.5 million provincial government grant also solved a dilemma faced by the school district — declining enrolment left Silverthorne with a lot of underutilized space.

Silverthorne principal Bev Forster remembers talk about dividing the two schools into separate grade levels when she began teaching in Houston 23 years ago.

“Back then teachers were talking about the benefits that would bring,” she said.

And now that it is happened, she says there’s a really nice feel developing among the students, staff and teachers within the nine classroom divisions.

“One of the comments I got from a parent is that the younger kids aren’t hanging out, they’re now playing,” said Forster in acknowledging one of the influences older students can have on younger ones.

“I don’t think I realized how older students influenced younger ones in play.”

And with the younger grade grouping now concentrated at Silverthorne, budgets for material and resources specific to those grades are concentrated there as well.

“What I can say is that we have more money for primary resources so we’re not spread as thin,” said Forster.

Teachers are also seeing the benefit in being able to better plan together and teach together, she added.

“Being able to group together, that’s so nice,” Forster said.

That same benefit of having fewer grades to focus on was repeated by Jaksun Grice, the principal of both Twain Sullivan and Houston Secondary School.

“Definitely, there’s now more collaboration, team-teaching,” said Grice.

Within the school district structure, Twain Sullivan and Houston Secondary are grouped under the campus model in that while they are separate buildings, they are closely integrated in resources, food programs and administrators and support staff.

That had benefitted Twain Sullivan’s Grade 4 – 7 students for years and now that Silverthorne’s own Grades 4 to 7 divisions have been moved to Twain, all of the community’s students within those grades now have equal access.

“The art room, shop [at the secondary school] had been used by kids from Twain but not from the other school so now with all Grades 4 to 7 here now, that barrier has been eliminated,” said Grice.

Also to be eliminated is the apprehension and worry of the unknown Grade 7 Silverthorne students had about moving up into Grade 8 at the secondary school because they lacked the exposure Twain’s Grade 4 to 7 students enjoyed to the senior grade school.

“Going into Grade 8 is a big transition so now that all of the Grade 7 kids will be familiar, we are setting the stage for success,” said Grice.

“Now all of our teachers, all of our staff, will know the students.”

Students themselves will find a benefit in meeting new peers and friends now that the Grades 4 to 7 students are in one building, Grice added.