By CECILE SAN AGUSTIN
PATERSON —Two elementary schools in thediocese are moving forward to begin an in-novative kind of learning by introducing mul-ti-age education. Starting in the fall, bothBlessed Sacrament School here and St. ClareSchool in Clifton will implement this styleof learning for its students.
“This is 21st century learning,” said LeliaPappas, principal of Blessed SacramentSchool. “Multi-age education takes childrenaway from the confines of a traditional class-room and children learn at their level withthis individualized style of instruction.”
To put the program in place, teachersfrom both schools, will be trained this sum-mer and continuously for the next few yearsby St. John University’s School of Educationin Queens, N.Y.
Mary Baier, deputy superintendent ofdiocesan schools, said, “Multi-age educationis a learning community of a mixed-agegroup of students. They typically stay with-in the same classroom for two to three years.While multi-age involves a mixed age groupof students, it is not a combination of gradelevels or a combined classroom. Teachers areviewed as guides, models and facilitators.”
According to St. John’s University, the aimof multi-age education is to ensure that stu-dents learn at their level. This increases stu-dent self-confidence and it strives to createa cooperative attitude among children. Multi-age education encourages children to be in-dependent and academically excel as high asthey are willing to work. Students developorganizational skills and manage their ownlearning. Multi-age learning will alsoinclude blended learning, which us-es technology in the classroom on adaily basis.
Each child is viewed as an indi-vidual and expectations are adjust-ed for each child. This promotes, so-cial, emotional, physical, aestheticand cognitive development. It avoidsretention problems or lack of chal-lenge for a child.
Barbara Cozza, a professor at St. John’s, spoke to staff and parents at a meeting in both schools about the program last month. She said, “With this type of learning, children will be able to share, to understand and to collaborate with each other. They be- come leaders and teachers for their fellow classmates. It’s an active learn- ing environment and students be- come really involved.”
During the meeting with parents, Pappas said, “Many years ago stu- dents had to go to the library to research about history and other subjects. Today, they can simply go onto a computer or even a cell phone and search on the Internet if they needed to know who a president was or what the state capital of Maine is. The answers are all right there. Learning today is differ- ent and more interactive.”
Blessed Sacrament School will begin mul- ti-age education with its kindergarten and first-grade students, and junior high students in grades 6-8. By the 2014-2015 school year, the remaining grades will be brought into the multi-age program.
St. Clare’s will begin with the lower grades, having the pre-k3 and 4 in the mul- ti-age program as well as kindergarten and first grade.
In addition to students learning their school subjects, multi-age learning will help the children socially. Sister of Charity Joseph Nelida, principal of St. Clare’s, said, “I think this is going to lead the school into a new era. It gives the students the skills to social- ize better because it’s peer-to-peer learning. I think it’s going to help them more as they learn from each other and develop their lead- ership skills. Children learn faster from each other. This will be another asset to them.”
In a typical multi-age class of about 25 students, children work in various groups — individual, pairs, small or whole group. Each kind of grouping is based on objective of les- son and needs of a child. Re-teach, instruct, enrich are three components teachers con- sider for each child.
A key to success for multi-age learning work is parent involvement, according to St. John’s. “Parents should help at home with learning, volunteer in class, support fund- raising, parenting with the teacher and join school commitments,” said Cozza.
To assess the child’s progress, projects, presentations, portfolios of work, observation and anecdotal notes will be used. They will be reported to parents through conferences, electronic collection of work, progress re- ports, portfolios and anecdotal records.
“ It is a sound educational philosophy and a strategy,” Baier said. “It is most conducive to 21st century learning. Multi-age philoso- phy has a child-centered approach, which is founded in an understanding of child devel- opment and research on how children learn and it considers the uniqueness of each learn- er in terms of learning rate, background, learning styles, multiple intelligences and in- terest. It is differentiated instruction at its best. It can be implemented as an organiza- tional pattern for specific schools to ensure long range viability.”
At Blessed Sacrament School, Pappas said, “ We’re really excited about multi-age learn- ing coming to our school and what this could do for our students. We want to give our students every opportunity to be the best they can be.”