Academic Day Restructured for Bernards Township Fifth-Graders

Cedar Hills School, one of four elementary schools in Bernards Township. Credits: file photo

BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Fifth grade won’t be quite the same next fall in Bernards Township schools.

Administrators described a revamping of the academic day for that grade level to the Board of Education on Monday, June 18.

Instead of remaining in the same room with one teacher for all core subjects, fifth-graders will have some limited movement to other classrooms. Core subjects will be assigned to teachers so they can concentrate on two subjects; currently teachers are generalists who address their own classes in science, math, social studies, reading and writing.

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Children will begin and end the day with their homeroom group, but, other than that, pupils will be reshuffled into different classrooms every period. Heterogeneous groups will stay together for the entire day.

The so-called “platooning” system is a crossbreed between the traditional grammar school day, where one teacher has the same group for all subjects in the same room, and the middle school arrangement, where students change classes and teachers for each subject and period.

Brian Heineman, district director of curriculum and instruction, said the revision will help students transition to the middle-school day, while allowing fifth-grade teachers to specialize in their strongest academic areas.

In the past, there have been concerns that the transition from an elementary classroom in fifth grade to six grade's full middle school program at the William Annin Middle School has been too abrupt.

Joyce Campos, a fifth-grade teacher at Oak Street School, said the system would allow her “to do my absolute best in a subject with your kids.”

Building principals described the idea as a “Goldilocks” middle-level hybrid between the four elementary schools (which house kindergarten to fourth grades) and the next step of moving between rooms and subject teachers every 50 minutes.

For instance, at Cedar Hill School, each of the five teachers on the fifth-grade team will plan and teach two classes in one subject and three in another in any given day. The schedule will be slightly different at a school like Liberty Corner, where there are four fifth-grade teachers, but the concept remains the same.

Principals said the concept was described to fourth graders in the closing days of the school year, particularly feeling nervous, but excited and more adult in a step-up from the grammar school pattern.

Board members generally seemed to like the plan, with some reservations. Member Linda Korn said she was “a big believer in grammar school” and didn’t want to take away that maturing effect by pretending students in middle school.

Members Michael Byrne and Karen Richman asked if there would be the same amount of class time in each subject at all schools, not seeing one school have more time with math and another more with Latin, for instance.

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