*CORRECTION: The multi-age program started at Cedar Ridge Elementary School in the fall of 2011. An earlier version of this article had the wrong year.
COLUMBIA — If voters approve a $50 million school bond issue next month, more than half of the money would go toward building a public elementary school somewhere on Columbia's east side.
The school would be designed for 600 students, including the students and probably many of the teachers, staff and administrators from Cedar Ridge Elementary School at 1100 S. Roseta Ave., off East Broadway and east of U.S. 63. Estimated to cost $28 million, the new school would open in 2018 and is part of a 10-year plan to address overcrowding in the district.
Although nothing has been decided by the Columbia School Board, the empty Cedar Ridge building might be used for students from the district’s Title I preschool and gifted programs, which are located in the Field School. A proposed community school, intended to be a place of stability for at-risk students, could move into the Field location.
The change in buildings would mean much more room for Cedar Ridge students and faculty – the school was built for 100 students. Relying on the addition of seven trailers, the school has more than 180 students this year. Bathroom breaks have to be scheduled because the school has only one bathroom for boys and one for girls. Lunches are trucked in from Shepard Boulevard Elementary School and served from a plastic cart in the gymnasium.
"I have people working under conditions that they shouldn’t have to work in," principal Angie Chandler said. "We’ve just outgrown it so badly that it’s time for us to be able to move into a bigger scenario."
One way Cedar Ridge has sought to make the most of its tight fit is through its multi-age program, which combines grades into three groups: kindergarten and first grade, called the "Kangaroos"; second and third grades, called the "Bees"; and fourth and fifth grades, called the "Scholars."
Under the multi-age program, teachers can move students from one classroom to another based on their academic and behavioral performances. The goal is to give students access to the curriculum appropriate for them.
"For the teachers, it’s a lot of work, but it feels like it’s the only way to do it," Chandler said.
*Chandler implemented the program in the fall of 2011. Teachers, who had less than a semester to prepare for the change, were initially reluctant, kindergarten and first-grade teacher Lori Huhman said.
"We were nervous about it," Huhman said. "We thought, ‘Can we do it? Do we have enough knowledge? Did we know what we were doing?'"
Despite the concern from teachers and parents about the transition, Huhman said that once the system was in place, it began to help students and teachers alike.
"Especially in the older grades, the kids that weren’t successful in the traditional setting, the ones that fell further behind — now they are in a class where they can perform to the best of their ability," Huhman said.
"There are kids that are used to flying under the radar," fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Lonna Eaton said. "With this system, they don’t get to do that."
Eaton called the multi-age program a prescriptive method of education.
"We’re physicians, in a sense, but it’s for education," Eaton said. "You don’t want to just stab blindly in the dark and say, 'Take two aspirins, go home and call me in the morning.'"
The program is based on one used at Ridgeway Elementary School, but with a key difference: Instead of scheduling different subjects by classroom throughout the day, every classroom is studying the same subject at the same time.
The school-wide schedule makes transferring students easier, Chandler said.
Chandler said they would like to take the multi-age system to a new school.
"Then we can build that culture over there of allowing students to access curriculum based on whatever their level is," she said.
Adapting to the multi-age program would require a certain type of teacher, Eaton said.
"We’re going to have to have people that are willing to work as a team," Eaton said. "It’s a lot of changing. You may have lesson plans planned out for the week, and you may be teaching and you do an assessment, and if they’re not getting it, you have to throw the plans out."
Chandler thinks the multi-age approach allows students to learn at their level and brings out the best in them.
"Once kids know that they have that opportunity and that there's no limit, they will do amazing things," she said.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.