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Nautilus Elementary eyes K-8 transition

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

The transition from elementary to middle school can turn into a very confusing rite of passage for many students — and a period of mixed emotions for parents.

Last year, Nautilus Elementary proposed a K-8 program to serve students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, allowing them to remain under the same classroom settings during their middle school years.

The proposal’s main initiative is to eliminate the transition from elementary school to middle school, helping students to stay focused on learning rather than having to understand a whole new school culture.

This past fall, Woodmont Elementary implemented a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. Proponents say K-8 programs reduce school dropout rates, support parental involvement, create a feeling of security in a smaller environment and allow teachers to form a more personalized education.

Last May, Superintendent Tom Murphy noted that most children have decided by the eighth grade whether they are going to drop out of school, and a K-8 program is likely to reduce the amount of children choosing that route.

Although many students enjoy the conventional transition ritual when they enter middle school, not all students feel they are ready.

Cindy Black, principal at Nautilus Elementary, said that the school sought to implement the program three years ago, but due to several unexpected budget cuts, the proposal was left unfinished.

However, at the beginning of 2007-2008 school year, the Nautilus staff, with the support of parents and students, created a united front to move forward on the program.

“Our campus has enough space that not a lot of extensive work would need to be done to the building,” Black said.

Another idea of the K-8 program is to establish a family-oriented setting where older students would be able to attend school with their younger siblings, and at the same time serve as leaders for the emerging generations.

Lisa Torres, a math teacher at Nautilus Elementary, believes that based on research conducted by numerous parents and staff members, less school transition is better for a particular age group.

Based on this research, parents who are involved in their children’s middle school years help promote continuous education and at the same time reduce discipline problems, Torres said: “Parents are already involved at Nautilus and they are very familiar with the school.”

Julie Enges’ daughter is a fifth-grader at Nautilus who currently receives special education services at the school. For Enges, it’s extremely important for her daughter to continue studying under a setting where she is already familiar with the staff members and the quality of education.

“When my son went to middle school, parent and student involvement ceased to exist,” Enges said. “The thought of sending my daughter to middle school makes me crazy. I’m hopeful this program will come through.”

If the initiative gets approved after a second reading by the Federal Way School Board in two weeks, students will continue to have the choice of attending Sacajawea Middle School.

Nautilus’ proximity to Sacajawea, however, will give those students who attend Nautilus access to numerous middle school activities offered at Sacajawea.

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com.

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