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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Sixth-graders in Iowa City’s new middle school model will have the opportunity to explore their career interests through “exposure units.”
The district is transitioning from a junior high to a middle school model by fall 2024, moving sixth-graders into schools with seventh- and eighth-graders.
The Iowa City school board approved the plan in February to move sixth-graders out of elementary schools.
It will require $34 million to expand the district’s three junior highs to fit in 300 to 400 sixth-graders at each building. The cost will be covered by already-approved sales and property taxes.
Middle school is a critical time for students to begin exploring career pathways and developing related skills, Lucas Ptacek, Iowa City schools’ executive director of secondary schools, told the Iowa City school board Tuesday.
Career development at this age, he said, helps students identify their strengths and interests, adds relevancy to their academic classes and eases the transition to high school, he said.
To ease the transition from fifth- to sixth-grade, sixth-graders will have a core three teachers for English, math, science and social studies, he said. Additionally, they will take six 30-day “exposure units” related to career and technical education, art and health.
“We know we want to provide ample opportunities for students post-high school, whether that be college or trades,” Ptacek said. “We have a responsibility to provide information and skills needed to make sure those students are successful beyond their experience here in Iowa City schools.”
The exposure units are still being developed.
From elementary to middle school to high school, students “gradually increase the number of adults they’re interacting with throughout the day,” Ptacek said. Seventh- and eighth-graders will rotate teachers for more subjects than sixth-graders, he said.
“We want to provide as seamless transition as possible between middle and high school,” Ptacek said. “The idea behind exposure units is they have the opportunity to discover. When a student starts to design their schedule in the future, they can keep in mind what things they really enjoyed.”
The estimated enrollment projections at each junior high with the addition of sixth-graders will be:
- 856 at North Central, 180 W. Forevergreen Rd., North Liberty
- 1,137 at Northwest, 1507 Eighth St., Coralville
- 1,166 at South East, 2501 Bradford Dr., Iowa City
This plan requires some teachers to shift from elementary to middle school as well. Ptacek said district administrators want to make sure teachers are “well-informed” about what the transition will look like and that it’s something they are interested in.
The majority of sixth-grade teachers in Iowa City have a license to teach K-6, Ptacek said. While they can teach any subject, Ptacek said he wants to ensure they’re teaching subjects they have a passion for.
For sixth-grade teachers who are not interested in moving to a middle school, they will have opportunities in the elementary schools, Ptacek said.
School board member Jayne Finch said she watched her own children go from the “sheltered, controlled environment” in elementary school to junior high, where they “weren’t ready for all that responsibility and independence.”
“I’m so excited for this transitional year,” Finch said during the Tuesday board meeting.
School board member Maka Pilcher Hayek said transitioning to a middle-school model, where students will spend three years, will make the experience “more meaningful.” Spending only two years in junior high makes it challenging for students to feel connected to the school, she said.
“One hope for me with this system is that it will get kids, teachers, staff and parents to dig in more to the middle school experience instead of it being a transitional two years,” Pilcher Hayek said.
School board member Lisa Williams said one of her children will be in the first class of sixth-graders to experience the middle school model in the fall of 2024.
“I am personally invested in making sure this is amazing,” Williams said.
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