Multi-Age Groups: American School Barcelona

In a blog posting , May 18,2008, I shared my views on the benefits of multi-age student groupings. While presenting at the Mediterranean Association of Independent Schools Conference in Madrid (MAIS), I had the opportunity to attend a workshop session that reinforced my beliefs and presented a great example of “what can be done.”

Susan Easton and Marta Vernet, of the American School of Barcelona presented a program called S.E.E.D. (The Student Exploration, Enrichment, and Discovery program). Students meet once a week for 25 weeks in Gr. 1-12 family groupings of around 10 students where Junior and Senior students serve as leaders and outside the school instructors provide content and activities.

The program has three goals:

1. To create more leadership opportunities for high school students.
(I think this is very important. Multi-age creates increased leadership roles. After the session, I suggested that they might look at having 7/8th graders having a junior leader role in the group.)

2. To create more interaction between all students from the different divisions of the school.
(I believe this is an important social goal for schools. In my earlier blog on this topic, the school I featured said that they had nearly eliminated bullying through K-8 family groups. I was recently working with a middle school where the staff is uncomfortable mixing 6-7-8 graders in learning activities. That “fear” tells me they need activities for students to learn appropriate mixed age behaviors. After all, they will ride home on the bus together.)

3. To create more time for teachers to plan collaboratively.
(This is why the school uses outside the school instructors for the activities. Teachers are free during this 45 minutes and add an additional 30 min as it occurs at the end of the day, creating a quality time block for collaboration. Paid instructors are parents, past graduates of the school, or community folks like firemen. They are paid for one hour a week for the 25 weeks.)

S.E.E.D. is now in its second year and used extensive input from student surveys to develop it’s current activities in the areas of team building, literacy, arts, physical education, and games. With 25 activities, students attend a different one each week.

I’ve asked Sue and Marta to share some of their personal observations of the program’s value:

Sue: The benefits of this program go far beyond our original goals. Having an informal learning experience in English is of great benefit to our largely Spanish population. Having the involvement of the community in activities including first aid, a firefighter demonstration, gardening, and a school-wide tile mosaic, allow students to have the opportunity to interact with members of our local community in a positive, healthy environment. However, for me, the greatest benefit is visible in the halls: when I see a first or second grader’s face light up when they see their SEED leader walking towards them, then throw their arms around the leader’s knees, it makes me smile. But when I see the SEED leader’s face light up at the joy on the younger children’s faces, it makes me proud to be part of the program.

Marta Vernet:
It is great to see how the school transforms, as I always say an “organized chaos”. I love when I see 1st and 2nd graders in the High School halls, being totally comfortable as the most natural thing, or High School students in the elementary sand box fascinated by the sculptures they are doing with their teams. I think that the success of SEED is that all stakeholders of the school are on board (Director, Administrators, Board of Trustees) and they believe and support this program. SEED is a school wide project.

The majority of schools have students clustered for more than 13 years with pupils from their same age, then suddenly they leave school and they encounter a diverse world. SEED enables our children to develop those social, interpersonal skills that they will need to interact with this new reality.

As I always say the power of SEED is not about the activities the children are doing, but it is about the whole process, gathering together, chatting, going to the locations, discussing, problem solving, etc..

Having students from 1st to 12 grade involved in this program, gives space for all kind of interaction models;1st grader/12 grader, 8th grader/6th grade, 3rd grader /9th grader, etc. Students have the chance to be exposed to many different social patterns; some days they might be involved with an older member of their team, some days with someone similar to them, sometimes they will interact with someone younger, which at the end are simply opportunities to develop those social skills that they will need when they leave school and they get in the real life.

I think educational leaders should try to make schools understand the power and the necessity of integrating this kind of approach in schools, especially nowadays that the paradigm of education is in constant change. I personally think that cross age programs are much more than building spirit in a school. SEED is a powerful tool, as I always say SEED gives our children life skills that will be so useful for them in the future and that by other hand are difficult to receive in normal school settings.

You can contact Sue at seaston@a-s-b.com and Marta at mvernet@a-s-b.com

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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