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Nautilus Elementary's K-8 experiment

Sixth-grade students at Nautilus Elementary are the first group to try the new K-8 grade school. - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Sixth-grade students at Nautilus Elementary are the first group to try the new K-8 grade school.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

A year-long experiment at Nautilus Elementary is almost over — and the school is already gearing up for next year.

This marked the first year that Nautilus Elementary added sixth grade as the school expands to a K-8 elementary school.

The program began after parents at the school requested a committee to research the idea. The plan took off, and many parents liked the idea of a family-oriented school where students stayed until eighth grade.

"It's focused on academics," principal Cindy Black said. "It's a much smaller social scene."

The program offers continuity for the students. Rather than attend Sacajawea Middle School, students can stay in the program at Nautilus. Students can still participate in middle school sports at Sacajawea, but otherwise, they attend the elementary school.

Thirty-one students started the school year as sixth-graders at Nautilus. One has since moved and another went up the middle school.

Black admits it's not for every student.

"Some students need a bigger pool to swim in," she said.

But for others, it's a good step.

"Sometimes parents don't want them exposed," Black said. "They are more focused here."

There is the added bonus, Black said, that the program at Nautilus isn't bound by periods. A teacher can take more time on one subject if the class needs it.

"The core is still the same," Black said. "The delivery is just different."

Students find the new program an easier adjustment.

"You get to keep your old friends," sixth-grader Sebastian Nelson said.

Nautilus has brought some elements of the middle school to the elementary school.

Older students in the program are offered lunches for middle schoolers, separate from the younger students. The teacher of this year's sixth-graders, Lisa Torres, is also fluent in Spanish, so language is offered at the middle school level. This was brought in to help those students who were interested in joining the Cambridge Program in high school.

There is also heavy emphasis on environmental science at Nautilus — with hands-on activities including creek restoration, Black said.

Nautilus has partnered with Highline Community College and its Marine Science and Technology Center at Redondo Beach. Once a month, Nautilus students go on a field trip to the MaST Center for hands-on learning from a college professor.

"It's really fun to go to the touch tank," sixth-grader Teague Gooden said.

The students have learned so much that last month, they served as docents for a tour of the MaST Center by a group of senior citizens.

Throughout the year, Nautilus students will continue working on marine biology and will have an end-of-the-year cruise on a science research boat.

Learn more

Nautilus will add seventh-graders to the school next fall and will keep a sixth-grade class at the school. The school is currently accepting applications for students who wish to be sixth-graders at the school next year. Eighth-graders will be added in 2010. To learn more, call Nautilus at (253) 945-3400.

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