Should We Ease Kids Into Middle School?

Sixth grade academies are popping up to help students bridge the step up from primary school.

I'm back in my hometown of Atlanta for the week, so naturally I took a gander at the ever-shrinking Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In this past Sunday's issue was an interesting piece on a concept I wasn't aware of: so-called "sixth-grade academies" intended to help kids transition from elementary school to middle school.

Thus far, there are only three of them in the entire state of Georgia, but here's the rationale behind their existence:

[T]he academy is a selling point for parents who don’t like the idea of wide-eyed 11- and 12-year-olds running into mature eighth-graders who can range in age from 13 to 15. ...
A major focus at the school is helping students establish good study habits and organization skills to prepare for a larger course load. Students are taught how to arrange their backpack and they take surveys to help understand how they learn best, whether visually, audibly or through hands-on activities.
One of the three academies in Georgia instituted uniforms, as well as single-sex classes, which may be taking this concept too far.
The article even sparked some good-natured debate among the staff of the AJC. Senior Education Reporter Maureen Downey wrote on her Get Schooled blog that research actually supports lessening the number of transitions that kids need to cross throughout their schooling years. These sixth-grade academies, as well as others she's familiar with aimed at ninth-graders and fourth- and fifth-graders, just add another transition year to a student's path.
Research ... has shown that students suffer achievement loss during each transition year. Studies also show that students in k-8 schools outperform peers in middle and junior highs, and the fewer transitions are considered a key factor. Students in the k-8 and k-12 schools, a configuration that remains common among private schools, also experience less stressful adolescent years.
What do you think? Is mixing a child as young as 11 with one as old as 15 during the most awkward of the teenage years a situation worth avoiding?
Photo (cc) via Flickr user NancyCoop\n
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