Whitefield Academy Blog
Building Friendships Across Ages and Grades
This post was originally published in 2018.
As a family, we are getting ready to embark on our seventh year at Whitefield Academy. Over the years I have had a chance to see classical Christian education up close, and by now it is safe to say that we are convinced enthusiasts. There are many aspects of the way Whitefield does Christian classical education that I appreciate, but one facet that has completely taken me by surprise is the positive cross-grade relationships at Whitefield.
The Collision of Grades
One of the advantages of having a student body with fewer than 300 students is the chance for both intentional and spontaneous interaction between older and younger students. In most school systems today students are sequestered in separate buildings according to grade, so there is little chance for older and younger children to interact. Even in smaller private schools it is the norm for there to be little contact among older and younger grades. However, there is much to be gained when older and younger students collide, whether in a group reading session or a game of kickball at recess, and here at Whitefield all have come to enjoy and look forward to these special times of bonding and learning.
Pre-K and TK
In pre-kindergarten and transitional kindergarten, upper school students will periodically visit in the afternoon and spend time reading to the children in small groups. This is a time that the “Little Lions” look forward to; they greatly look up to these big kids.
At lunch time, students have assigned seats that rotate throughout the year. Every table has a variety of grades. For the little ones, this includes pre-k to second grade. The first and second graders are encouraged to help the younger kids and are assigned as “buddies,” helping to peel clementines, carry plates, or just sitting and chatting. Recess then follows, where it is very normal to see children from those four different grades playing games or pretending together.
In kindergarten and 1st grade a program called “Reading Buddies” is introduced. Individual students in kindergarten are matched with one or two students from 5th grade, and once a week the older “buddy/buddies” come read to their younger “buddy.” The same happens for students in first and sixth grades, and the same Reading Buddies are kept from kindergarten to first grade or fifth to sixth grade. At Christmas time, older buddies might visit their younger buddy class and help with ornament-making, or they may have a special gift exchange. These are moments that the students really look forward to.
One afternoon a year, classes from 1st through 6th grade are matched with a corresponding 7th through 12th grade class, and they play organized games outdoors. This is a great opportunity for the older kids to model good sportsmanship and promote some good old fashioned competition!
Board Games Day
One afternoon a year classes from 1st through 6th grade are matched with a corresponding 7th through 12th grade class to play board games indoors. This usually happens in late winter when everyone could use a break from studying.
The House System
Perhaps the cross-grade program students most look forward to is the house system. Students in 7th-12th grade are assigned to one of four “houses.” Activities such as retreats, competitions, and discussions are organized within the four houses.
By creating purposeful opportunities for students of different ages to come together, Whitefield acknowledges the value in inter-grade friendships. Responsibility and patience are cultivated when older students take the lead and facilitate activities with younger ones. As well, when younger students witness this leadership or receive an encouraging word they are inspired toward excellence. And perhaps most of all, these relationships strengthen the bonds of unity in our school. As a parent, when I visit the school and I witness an older student greeting one of my children by name as they pass in the hall, I am overcome with gratefulness for this amazing community.
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