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Blended elementary classrooms a must, district says

Parents sat at tiny desks in tiny chairs at the Eagle Creek Elementary School library on Thursday, June 2, to hear Principal Tina Rhue elaborate on the district's impending changes in the elementary schools.

After much voting and deliberation, the faculty and staff of Clackamas River, River Mill and Eagle Creek elementary schools have decided on a teaching model that blends grades two and three and grades four and five. This would leave kindergarten and grades one and six out of the blending mix, largely for transition purposes.

Rhue began her presentation by pointing out that as recently as three years ago, there were two teachers at every grade level at every school. In the years following, she admitted that the elementary schools were OK with budget cuts, as they always came out of the junior high and high schools.

'Now, as the budget gets cut more and more, we have to look at the whole K through 12 system as a K through 12 system,' Rhue said. 'We have to be creative in how we group our children.'

The district's answer is blending, an educational model in which two or more grade levels are put into one class, and multiple teachers work together to teach all levels.

This is not to be confused with a split classroom model, in which multiple grade levels are also combined, but with one teacher to instruct them all.

Rhue said shared teaching will better enable students to be taught at their own, personal level, regardless of age, grade or skill.

She also argued that a blended model may help schools deal with the loss of Title I employees, with teachers expected to teach a smaller range of small groups, granting more time with each student.

Blending was considered a positive alternative to options that have the potential to be far more jarring to students. This includes an entire school closure as well as the redistribution of teachers and students into three buildings based on grade level.

'The school board wants our schools to look as much alike as possible for students who move around,' Rhue said. 'We don't want our students to have a different educational experience from one school to another.'

In Rhue's opinion, grade levels based on age are an 'artificial number.' With some teachers experiencing a learning difference of up to four grade levels within a single grade-level classroom. Rhue believes that blending is an answer that would shrink, rather than expand, this vast spectrum found within many classes.

'It's no longer, 'shut your doors and work your magic with four levels.' The data is showing that isn't working. As much as we love our teachers, they're being worked to death,' Rhue said.

Many studies have been done on this teaching method and can be found online, according to Rhue. You may find it under the term 'multi-age grouping.'