The Power of N-8 Schools for Adolescents

By Jim Benz

I started my career working with middle school-age children (grades 6-8). I immediately loved them, and throughout my years in school I have advocated for schools to pay more attention to the joys and fragility of this essential stage of life, also known as early adolescence.

One of my causes has been to critically examine the four school models in which 6th-8th grades exist: 1. In the middle of a N-12th grade school. 2. On their own campus, separated from students in younger and older grades. 3. At the bottom of a 6th-12th grade configuration. 4. As the eldest on a campus comprised of N-8th grade students.

I have yet to see a preponderance of research that argues that a “stand alone” model is beneficial for early adolescent students. And while the 6th-12th grade and the N-12th grade model many independent schools have adopted works for some kids, most research shows that N-8 schools benefit early adolescents.

A recent study of middle school students conducted by New York University reported, “The most dramatic effect was measured in students attending [stand alone] middle schools; they were more likely to have a negative view of their reading skills and interest levels.” In another study I read, the researchers focused on the transition to high school from a N-8 school.“The findings imply that students placed in relatively small cohort groups for long spans of time experience more desirable outcomes.” (Alspaugh, 1998) While these, like many school outcome research studies, focus on academic achievement, other factors that impact a child’s life and future are much more important to me.

In my own, very unscientific experience of over 30 years working with this wonderful age group, I’ve seen that students in this time of life blossom when they have younger students in their school, that they are excited and proud to be at the top of the school model, that they are engaged in leadership roles, and that their behavior is more community-oriented.

Here’s a link to the NYU study: