BLUE EARTH - Blue Earth Area Schools officials explained to a group that included concerned parents why moving the district's eighth-graders to the high school in 2014 will benefit the kids.
The main reason behind the move is to acclimate the eighth-graders to the building, the teachers and the block schedule, according to Rich Schneider, high school principal, who addressed the topic at a meeting Wednesday night. That keeps them from being overwhelmed at the start of ninth grade and falling behind in their classes. Doing well in ninth grade is especially important, since that is when their grades start counting toward graduation, he added.
Teachers and school board members have visited Albert Lea and Red Wing districts, which have transitioned eighth-graders into the high school.
"The number of failures from eighth to ninth dropped by 66 percent," said Doug Storbeck, a high school math teacher. "If we take care of that [culture shock], we alleviate that pressure."
"If they save those kids, they have to be saving the kids in the middle, as well," said Jesse Haugh, school board member.
In addition to helping the eighth-graders academically, it could help them in another way.
"Eighth-graders will assume more mature roles," said Schneider, adding that upperclassmen will lead the way, telling the youngsters, "That's not how we behave here at the high school."
The other school districts confirmed problems are usually between kids in the same grade, while the upperclassmen are the ones who step in to restore order.
Schneider said the current 9-12 grades total 372 students. Next year is projected at 363.
The high school was built for a capacity of 600 students, and a number of rooms are not being used or are used infrequently, Schneider said.
Total enrollment of grades 8-12 in 2014 would be 465, and it would stay right around that mark for the next two years, Schneider said, so the building could certainly handle the extra students.
Eighth-graders can take high school classes, Schneider said, but they cannot receive high school credit toward graduation for them.
He said he would not be in favor of eighth-graders competing with upperclassmen for positions in extracurriculars.
"Some activities would have to be based on High School League rules," said Superintendent Evan Gough.
League rules prohibit younger students from participating in some activities.
One mother in the audience worried that her child was not mature enough to make the switch to the high school as an eighth-grader. Some parents worried about the eighth-graders fitting in at the high school and adapting to the block schedule.
"Will they benefit from being out here and moving to ninth grade the next year?" asked Mary Eckhardt, school board member.
"Any time you make a change, you need to proceed with caution," said Frankie Bly, school board chairman.
"There's a lot of real positives to it, but we have work to do," said teacher Gary Holmseth, who is on one of the committees studying the move.
"I'll make a recommendation to the school board in November," Schneider said. "No decision has been made at this point. We are seeking your input."