Schools are typically asked to speak to the reasoning behind the scope of grade levels included in their school. Parents and educators alike talk about Prek-8 or K-12 schools; sometimes they wish that we spanned more grade levels. Yet St. James Episcopal Day School is clearly an elementary school. We end our program in fifth grade, just as students approach Middle School age.
          The scope of the grade levels in a school is not simply one that involves figuring out how many classrooms one has available. Determining the grade levels in a particular school can affect the way we teach and the way we learn; this decision shapes the tone of the school community, the use of its resources, and the involvement of parents as well.
          I will admit to having a bias in this matter. I have spent most of my 32 years in schools at PreK-8 schools. I have worked several years in PreK-12 , and three of the four schools in which I’ve worked had early childhood programs as well. I am currently working in St. James Episcopal Day School, a PreK-5 school, which also has an early childhood program. 
        One observation I have made holds true for each of these schools: each school typically derives its identity through focusing on its highest grade level – the graduating class. Now, I do not mean that the Fifth Grade, Eighth Grade or Twelfth Grade get all the attention and/or resources.  But I would suggest that schools often describe the “portrait of a graduate” in order to best determine how to design their program looking back from this point. In other words, the exit point in a school helps to shape each prior grade level in that school.
         That St. James has a young and happy feel is not coincidental. This speaks to our program, certainly. But this campus “feel” also comes from the fact that our oldest students are about 11 years old. Our youngest students are looking up to these fifth graders; they are not observing the wonderful AND trying attitudes of 7th graders. Nor are they caught up in the 17-18 year old experimental lives of high schoolers. These Middle and High School students are not “bad” or “wrong”, but the broad span may push younger student to aspire to and mimic the lives of older students far too quickly than they are developmentally prepared to experience.
​       When our kindergarteners look up, they are seeing fifth graders who still wave to them and play with them. Our first grade students see fourth graders speaking with respect to their teachers and being kind to one another in and out of class (for the most part). The tone of St. James Episcopal Day School is young, but not immature – students’ minds are being challenged at levels appropriate for their development. But playfulness, joy, curiosity, and academic confidence are borne out of the youthful quality here.
       Sometimes, there is a tug on families to jump into a bigger school, to get their fourth grade child into a middle school before the “rush” of sixth grade, or to move their second grader when an older sibling moves to a middle school from St. James; the temptation is to get everything settled smoothly and quickly. But those families who can step back and see the bigger picture are often able to pause and recall the power of this school that culminates in fifth grade. St. James offers a program tailored to developing young minds, young bodies, and young souls. We may not be a child’s final educational experience, but we are committed to being a child’s finest educational, social, and spiritual foundation. What they learn here at St. James Episcopal Day School will carry them far in life.