Why K-8? It’s Intentional.

by Head of School Jessica Donovan

At this time of year, as parents are touring schools and thinking about the best next step for their children, I’m often asked why Sheridan stops at eighth grade rather than continuing through high school. This is a deliberate decision on our part, and one that we believe is the best structure for the growth, learning, and development of young people.

Fully focused on the early years

Elementary school-age children are developing a sense of their identities as thinkers, learners and social beings. When children are known and feel valued for who they are and where they come from, they are more able to open their minds to learning new concepts and making the mistakes necessary for growth. The Sheridan community is intentionally structured to optimize our students’ learning potential. 

Our younger children know they are cared for by their older peers, and can look up to them as role models. The Sheridan community of learners is so close that it’s not unusual to see older students laughing with younger ones, listening to them read or working with them on a project. The younger ones see the older students working hard, performing, and leading, and they know that that will be them one day. It’s so special to see the pride in our kindergarten readers as they show their 3rd grade reading buddies the progress they are making. 

A transformative middle school experience

For our middle school children, being at the “top” at such a crucial age sets them up for a lifetime of success. The middle school years are often referred to as a “second toddlerhood” because the extensive developmental and physical changes that happen at that time can only be compared to the changes that occur between babyhood and childhood. With great changes come angst and discomfort. Middle schoolers are naturally pushing away from their parents and forming a sense of who they will be as adults. During this time, a safe, supportive environment is crucial. Students need to know they can go to their teachers for support. At Sheridan, we make sure that our middle school students see themselves as leaders and role models, so that when they go off to high school, they are armed with the knowledge that they matter. 

Personally, I’ve worked in schools with many different structures and have come to believe that for elementary- and middle school-aged children, K-8 is the best approach. High school naturally requires more institutional energy and investment, and often the administrative decisions are focused on the oldest students. In a K-8 we are free to focus on our students without the pressure of the high school, and our decisions can be focused on what is best for younger children. 

Outplacement and college prep

Even though many parents see the value of the K-8 structure and know that Sheridan is the right community for their child, they still worry about applying again for high school after 8th grade. Applying for school can feel daunting and the idea of eliminating the need to apply again can be attractive. It’s important to remember that 8th graders have their own ideas, have formed a sense of themselves as learners, and are invested in their next step in a different way than younger children. At Sheridan, we walk the 8th graders and their families through each step of applying to high school so that they can ultimately choose a school that fits their unique selves. We often say, “You pick an elementary school that fits your family, 8th graders pick a high school that fits them.” Our graduates tell us that applying to college was much easier for them than it was for their peers because they had the experience of applying to high school while still at Sheridan.

As you tour schools, read websites, and talk with admissions offices, you will see so many wonderful qualities about all of the DC area schools. At Sheridan, you’ll see the warm and inclusive environment we have created, the poised and self-assured way our middle school students discuss their learning, and how our K-8 school is an ideal place for children to learn, grow and thrive. 

Why is K-8 so great? Here’s what our parents and students have to say!