School district officials are trying to reassure parents who are protesting a proposal to move sixth-grade students from elementary schools to middle schools.
In letters to Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District officials and at school board meetings, parents have vehemently opposed the idea of their 11-year-old children attending school with 13-year-olds.
We "encourage children to mature socially more quickly than their limited life experiences have adequately prepared them," wrote parent Christine Markstrum in a letter to the school board. "Placing sixth-graders with eighth-graders is another instance of this accelerated move for social maturity."
Most of the concern from parents deals with the social pressures sixth-grade students can face at middle schools.
One parent, M.A. Sumantha, said in an interview that his daughter, who attends Morse Avenue Elementary School, would not be ready for the peer pressure she would encounter at a middle school next year.
"I think she would be exposed to situations she wouldn't be ready to handle," Sumantha said.
At least one district trustee has also questioned the wisdom of putting sixth-graders on the same campus as eighth-grade students.
"We are trying to fight problems such as drug abuse and teen-age pregnancies on the one hand, yet we are making a decision on an issue that may contribute to them," Trustee Craig Olson said at a board meeting earlier this month.
While most of the district's sixth-graders are enrolled in Placentia-Yorba Linda's 18 elementary schools, officials are hoping to change that and eventually move them to the five middle schools. However, no target date has been set yet.
"The sixth-, seventh-, eighth-grade configuration is very good for students," said Sharon McHolland, assistant superintendent for education. "It provides more academic opportunities and allows them to participate in programs not available at elementary school."
Yorba Linda Middle School Principal Ken Lorge said in an interview that most parents who come to him with concerns about how well sixth-graders adapt to middle school are pleased when they tour the campus and observe the students.
"They see that for the most part the older students look out for the sixth-graders," Lorge said.
Lorge, who was principal at an elementary school with a sixth grade before coming to Yorba Linda, is convinced that sixth-graders belong at middle school.
"Socially, academically and emotionally, they fit in better here," he said.
A group of sixth-graders at Yorba Linda Middle School, one of the two district middle schools that have a sixth grade, agreed, saying they prefer the middle school to elementary school. The students liked trading classes every hour, being exposed to older students and engaging in the stepped-up social life that middle school offers.
"You don't get bored with teachers because you only have them for a little while," said sixth-grader Kristen Rollins. "The dances are fun, too. I have a friend in sixth grade at (an elementary school) and she tells me to quit bragging when I talk about the dances."
Another sixth-grader, Megan Garrigues, said that although the older students tease and harass the younger students at the beginning of the year, it doesn't last long.
"As soon as you make a few (older) friends, they leave you alone," she said. "It's not a big deal."