Wheaton Montessori News
This is a question that comes up often. It came up just recently during one of our Parent Discovery Nights. Parents wonder: Wouldn’t it be better to join a public high school at the beginning of freshman year at the same time as everyone else?
Many people view entering public high school at the start of 9th grade as a level playing field; everyone is coming in to a new environment together from various middle schools. But along with this comes what has been described as a “feeding frenzy.” Students are entering a new environment with new people during a period of major developmental changes. This leads to a bit of a “blind leading the blind” situation – everyone is indeed new together and thus no one has experience to draw from to help understand and traverse this completely new environment. When students enter public high school in 10th grade, it is fair to expect that social groups have already been formed. This allows the students to identify these groups and determine where they fit best. During the 9th grade year it is more likely for students to stumble in and out of social groups because the students are not entirely certain of who they are as individuals, let alone where they fit in this new society.
Maria Montessori identified stages of growth that she categorized into four planes of development: infancy, childhood, adolescence, and maturity. The third plane of development is split into two sub-planes – early and late adolescence – because of the major shift that takes place around age 15. During early adolescence, students are exploring and coming to terms with who they are as individuals; they are learning to integrate different aspects of themselves. They are also learning about where and how they fit into society. You have likely heard about a prepared environment in Montessori classrooms. Part of this prepared environment at the adolescent level is providing a sort-of mock society. The classroom is meant to be a place where students can practice their social interactions in a safe and comfortable space where it is okay to make mistakes. Entering a less forgiving social environment before these young adults have finished this period of rebirth – before they have found the confidence in themselves as whole people and before their brains have finished rebuilding – can lead to more challenges and less certainty.
Students in the 9th grade thrive in the 7th – 9th grade age group; they are not yet in the same phase of development as students in 10th – 12th grade. One local public high school recognizes this and distributes packets to all incoming freshmen explaining that the school realizes that the freshmen are not yet ready to intermingle with their older peers, but that the faculty is dedicated to helping them through this final year of early adolescence and to prepare them for the leap to 10th grade. Rather than sending students to a new environment where it is recognized that they are not ready to fully integrate with the larger population, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep them in their familiar environment? Providing as much external stability as possible when the changes happening in the brains and bodies of these adolescents feels anything but stable can help these students through this period of “brain chaos.”
There is also the issue of the 3-year cycle. The adolescent program is set up so that, over the course of their 3-year tenure, students are exposed to each of the over-arching themes; each of the big trips; each piece of the complete program. Leaving before the 9th grade year means missing out on one-third of the topics the program aims to cover – topics that may or may not be touched on as part of the public high school curriculum.
This is not the first time the decision to delay transferring out of a Montessori environment comes up. It is also common for parents to debate whether or not to stay for the Kindergarten year. Some of the reasons to stay for Kindergarten remain the same as reasons to stay for 9th grade. Just as Kindergarten is a culmination of all of the preparatory work done during the pre-school years, 9th grade is a culmination of all of the preparatory work that students have completed over their entire career at Wheaton Montessori. Being at the highest grade in the school allows students to take on the highest possible leadership role. They are looked up to by the entire school population and are afforded even more opportunities to act as mentors than ever before. If you trusted the process and the vision set forth by Maria Montessori enough to stay through the Kindergarten year, and to stay through 6th grade and into the Adolescent Program, we hope you can have faith in the importance of the 9th grade year as well.
“But, above all it is the education of adolescents that is important, because adolescence is the time when the child enters on the state of manhood and becomes a member of society.” –Dr. Maria Montessori