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Sixth-graders: the new kids at school

Monday afternoon, Molly McCarthy waited for her son to come out of his new school with a full report.

Her son, Finnian Skundrick, is tall for his age, so she thought he would fit in well at Hedrick Middle School, where he and a contingent of sixth-grade classmates are now the youngest students. Their lockers, lunchtime and classrooms are all sequestered from the two older grades.

When Finn exited Hedrick with his friend of several years, Avrahm Webber, he had some bad news. His height works against him in another part of his middle school experience — he has a bottom locker.

The hunching over and the tricky combination locks were the less fun parts of the day. But overall, he said, the teachers were kind, he liked moving classrooms during the day, and the anxiety he felt at the beginning of the day slowly faded.

“My favorite part was probably seeing the school and the different rooms,” he said.

Finn and Avrahm are two of Medford School DIstrict’s 205 participants in the Sixth Grade Academy, which, along with a pre-Labor Day start to the academic year, is a change from last school year.

Sixth Grade Academy isn’t entirely new, however — a pilot program ran for several years at the beginning of the century before administrators shut it down due to budget constraints. It’s a voluntary program with slots distributed by lottery, aimed at students who, with the consent of their parents, want to experience middle school a year earlier than they would. That access to Hedrick or McLoughlin middle school means the chance to take multiple physical education or music classes a week, tackle advanced mathematics or try new sports.

Avrahm and Finn both said their schedules had been switched from what they had expected, and Avrahm was now enrolled in a coding class.

“I wanted to start (middle school) early, to have a head start,” he said.

All of Medford’s neighboring school districts have middle school in a sixth-through-eighth model, but Medford parents have often expressed unease about the idea of adopting it.

McCarthy said she felt better that on the first day her son attended Hedrick, the only other attendees were seventh-graders, who were also new to the school.

District administrators have indicated in recent comments that support for a K-5 elementary and grades 6-8 middle school model is growing.

Michelle Cummings, Medford’s chief academic officer, led a parent-and-teacher task force on the subject in 2015-2016. She said those discussions indicated that middle school is a good home for sixth-graders.

“We do believe that academically, socially, emotionally in order to meet (sixth-graders’) needs both for rigorous academic education and developmental needs, that those can be very well met in a sixth-through-eighth middle school,” Cummings said.

McCarthy said one thing in particular encouraged her about her son’s decision to leave his friends who stayed at Hoover Elementary or opted for the Valley School.

“Mostly, I’m excited that he’s excited for school,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune{ }Avrahm Webber and Finnian Skundrick talk about their first day at Hedrick Middle School's Sixth Grade Academy.