Principal Zack Allen pointed at a group of students marching single file through a Sunset Elementary School hallway.
“Can you tell which (students) are first graders and which are second graders?” Allen asked.
Judging by the look of the students, who were all roughly the same height, Allen’s question was rhetorical.
The students were members of Sunset Elementary School’s first multi-age class.
Multi-age classes combine students from different grades in the same room under one teacher’s direction for the school year.
“(Multi-age classes are) not a new concept in education,” Allen said. “There have been other multi-age classrooms in the district in years past.”
Aside from Maybell Elementary School — where kindergarten through fourth-grade students attend a multi-grade classroom — Sunset Elementary is the only school in the district with a multi-age class.
The ideal class size for kindergarten through second-grade classes in the Moffat County School District is 18 to 22 students per class.
For each of Sunset’s classrooms to fall within that range, Allen decided this year to combine some of the first- and second-graders.
That decision has raised some questions in the community, Allen said.
“I’m happy to have an opportunity to address misconceptions,” Allen said. “I want to dispel the myth that your second-grader is in here because he’s behind, because that’s certainly not the case. And, just because your first-grader is in here, doesn’t mean he’s well ahead, either.”
Instead, Allen said he sought to combine students from a broad spectrum of reading and math levels. They chose high-, middle-, and low-performing students from the pool of incoming first- and second-graders.
Paula Kinkaid, a teacher for 21 years, is teaching the mixed-grade classroom.
“Mrs. Kinkaid was a clear and obvious choice,” Allen said. “She has taught first- and second-graders previously. I mean, she’s never taught the multi-age concept before, but she’s familiar with the curriculum for both grade levels.”
Kinkaid, who has taught school for 21 years, said combining students from different grades isn’t much different from teaching a single grade.
In most classrooms at this age, students are broken into groups by reading level, Kinkaid said.
“Children read at all different levels,” she said. “You’re never going to have everyone at the same level, even within a single grade. So, I’ll look at the children (in the multi-age class), and group them according to where they’re reading.
“It’s going to be a good year,” she said.
Allen was unsure if the combined class would continue next year. It again depends on the numbers, he said.
Asked how the students would answer the often-asked question, ‘What grade are you in?’ Allen said he wasn’t sure.
After checking in with some students, he said, “A few said proudly that they were in first and second grade.”