A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Meet the new kid(s): The 8th Early High School Initiative at LHS

The structure of Littleton is in for a huge change. Going into effect in 2017, Littleton High School will offer classes for 8th graders. Next fall, accelerated 8th grade students from all around will have the opportunity to take 9th grade classes in Mathematics, Science, World Language, and electives, along with an 8th grade Humanities course which includes Language Arts and Social Studies. Dr Amy Oaks, principal of Littleton High School, explains the Early High School option.

“Early High School is a new program that we are developing to open in August of 2017 that will give 8th graders the opportunity to enter into high school early. They will enter as 8th graders but they will take mostly 9th grade classes. They will get graduation credit for those classes, and they will spend their whole day at Littleton High School and they will be Littleton High School Students.” said Oaks.

These students, capable of taking mostly 9th grade classes a year early, will get the credits of those classes and also have the opportunity to take more classes later on in their high school career.

“When they come to Littleton High School as eighth graders they will graduate on time, as if they had stayed in their middle school. So they’re coming to high school one year early, but they’re not graduating one year early. So if you think about it, high school is a four year program, and these kids are going to spend 5 years in high school.” said Oaks.

The students who will come as 8th graders will be an accelerated group of kids capable of essentially skipping 8th grade and instead learning at a higher caliber.

“This program is important for kids who are academically ready to come to high school and are academically ready for what schools have to offer,” said Oaks, “I think there are kids who are academically and socially ready to come to high school who would be perfectly happy to skip 8th grade and what they might really enjoy would be access to things like performing arts.” said Oaks.

“They will come in as eighth graders and take an 8th graders and they’ll take an eighth grade humanities class, which will be there language arts and social studies class, and then they will take ninth grade level math, science, world language, and electives. Unless, they need 10th grade math. We have some kids in 8th grade in Littleton and around us who would take geometry as an 8th grader. So they’ll take Algebra or Geometry as an 8th grader, 9th grade science, world language, 8th grade language arts and 8th grade social studies, and 9th grade electives.” said Oaks.

Many questions have arisen over the logistics of this new program and the changes it brings, the first being whether Littleton High School has enough physical room to house the extension of students alongside their upperclassmen. Another question is what the change in staffing 8th graders require will look like for them and the rest of LHS. Oaks has assured that both of those changes are welcome to Littleton as it stands now.

“Littleton right now has 1169 students. This building could hold almost 1500 so physically we have enough room. This year the school district has given us two extra teaching positions to help us maintain all of the programs we offer. So we already have extra staffing, so taking extra students wouldn’t be a problem from a staffing point of view partly because they’ve given us staffing.” sad Oaks

These 8th grade students, academically and socially ready, will take all 9th grade classes – with the exception of Language Arts and Social Studies – with other 9th grade students. This will also mean that the 8th grade class will be smaller than the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior class. The size will be based on the standard number of students in a given LHS class, meaning that the class will consist of one or more cohort, or group, of 25 to 32 students.

“We would hope to have somewhere between 25 and 32 students for the first cohort and then if enough people are interested we could have a second cohort of 25 to 32 students. Adding those two together, meaning if we had a lot of interest, we might have somewhere between 50 and 64 students. We will keep a waitlist if we have more than that, because we know that families sometimes accept a position and they move or they go somewhere else.” said Oaks.

As such, the 8th grade humanities course, Language Arts and Social Studies classes will be the focal point of an 8th grade LHS student’s schedule, as the 3rd block of either and even or odd day, periods 5 and 6.

“In order to run those classes efficiently, a Littleton High School has full class is somewhere between 25 and 32…So if we have one group of 8th graders between 25 and 32 in that English class period 5, and then the same number in period 6. If we wanted a second group of kids, or cohort, that would be another be another 25 to 32 kids. It would look like a very small core that only taught English and Social Studies in an interdisciplinary way, if you had 30 in English and 30 in Social Studies period 5 and then they switched classes period 6.” said Oaks.

Oaks also expects that Littleton will need someone who is an english teacher and a social studies teacher to pair up.  

“The class does not exist, so we will need to write up the curriculum for that class. We need to see how many kids come before we know for sure whether we need a little bit more english and social studies or whether we can use the existing number of teachers to teach these classes.” said Oaks.

The students will come together during one period, or block, in during an odd or even day. In terms of scheduling, this will be an opportunity for the 8th graders to have lunch between A lunch and B lunch. This is so that Littleton High School can maintain a closed campus for the 8th grade students, while also allowing all other grades to exercise their privilege of having an open campus during lunch and an off period.

“I think that 8th grade parents will not want their students to have open campus so if we send 8th graders to A or B lunch it will be absolutely impossible to maintain a closed campus for 8th graders. I also think there will be parent who will feel more comfortable if they know that there’s a separate 8th grade lunch. It’s not that these kids aren’t going to make friends with high school kids, but I think a lot of parents would feel better if they understood that that there was a little bit more structure rather than a little bit less structure.” said Oaks.

Not only to enforce a closed campus, this lunch will also allow the 8th graders, who will have a majority of high school classes, to be given support from their peers and from teachers.

These changes, across multiple platforms of LHS, of course affect the rest of the student body and and staff. Each student brings their school support from the district to finance all of the things a high school should offer, from academics to arts to athletics. Declining numbers in enrollment at LHS mean that the school cannot operate at its true potential if there are less kids to teach. Offering Early High School to 8th graders not only offers classes for advanced 8th graders, it also ensures a healthy enrollment of students throughout the coming years.

“It also benefits Littleton High School, because the enrollment they bring helps us maintain a healthy enrollment and that helps us continue to offer our electives and upper level courses we want to offer.” said Oaks.

What’s more is that even though there will be more students at LHS, that number will not affect the sports title of the school, which is based on the size of the student body.

“These students will be 8th graders, not 9th graders in our computer, so the CHSAA system only counts students 9-12th grade, so this will not affect our 4A-5A status; we’ll stay 4A. And not only that, but CHSAA does not let 8th graders participate or have contact with high school coaches so student who are athletes will have to go back to their home middle school or participate off campus in gold crown because they can’t play sports when they’re here.” said Oaks.

Depending on how accelerated an 8th grader is, upperclassmen will probably not have any 8th graders in their classes. 8th graders will typically be in 9th and potentially 10th grade classes, so some students from those blocks might have 8th graders learning with them, though not in as large a number as all of the other classes.

“I don’t know how it will impact older kids but one thing it will do for older kids is that it will maintain a healthy enough enrollment that we keep all of our art classes and our PE classes and our performing arts classes, so for older students, they may not have any contact with 8th graders they may not even realise that they’re there, but they recieve a big indirect benefit because the enrollment allows me to continue a master schedule that offers you guys all of these classes.” said Oaks.

And that idea is what brought Dr Amy Oaks to this new initiative, to continue to support LHS students in all the ways the school can.

“So this is an idea that is really my idea; it is not a national program or an international program like Advanced Placement or IB. This comes out of my experience working with middle school students; I was the principal at Goddard Middle School for 7 years before I was at Littleton High School and so I know of a lot of 8th graders who could have done this. We see a lot of 8th graders already in 9th grade coursework and we’ve seen 8th graders some to littleton high school in the past for math. We have a couple of 8th graders every year, sometimes in marching band, sometimes in math classes, and so that’s really where the idea came from.” said Oaks.

With all of this coming into play next year, 8th grade students and their families will be able to fill out an application available October 24 and ready for submission to LHS November 1st.

“Students will fill out an application, and the application will ask them to give us their academic record and it also ask for things we would ask any student applying, with attendance and discipline and that kind of stuff. But in this case the application also asks whether they’re socially ready and emotionally ready so the application will include a student essay, a parent essay, and three recommendations from middle-level educators and those essays and recommendations really focus on whether they are socially and emotionally ready.” said Oaks.

Students who qualify will be accepted in the order that their application arrives to the school, without a preference of in district or out of district. All the information has been sent to every 7th grade family in Littleton Public Schools as well as a website and advertising and articles on YourHub, part of The Denver Post and The Local Independent.

“We will also email all of this information to our littleton high school families because almost half of our families are coming from out of district and if those families would like to spread the word that’s the best way to get the word outside of the district.” said Oaks.

The new initiative at LHS that benefits all students and teachers is already being adopted into Littleton already.

“It’s very interesting to see teachers come into my office and say, ‘I’d like to teach that humanities class.’ Several teachers have already come in to do that.” said Oaks.

Even with the CHSAA regulations on 8th grader involvement in LHS sports, 8th graders can to go PE with other classes, which also fits into the larger narrative of the whole school, including the student body, to adopt this change.

“Kids can go to PE with older kids, I think 8th graders that weigh 75 pounds can can play PE with 12th graders and nobody gets hurt. I have complete faith that LHS kids can include an 8th grader in PE class and no one will get hurt. I also have complete confidence that nobody will get bullied.” said Oaks.

For all at LHS, from the staff to the (growing) student body, the 8th grade initiative at LHS is a welcome change for many will all the benefits it brings. With each new program there will still be a lot of learning for the school and students, but with a different and exciting new venture, the school year of 2017-2018 as well as the years to pass it will be a huge opportunity for all.