The middle school years, or as many refer to them, "the most awkward years of a child's life," are a time we can all look back on now as adults and say with confidence were "the worst." Did we really need to add insult to injury and host those three inevitable tween years full of frizzy hair, acne, and braces in a separate school? A recent study says maybe not.
Although some kids can go through middle school under the radar, for a lot of children, that time period is stressful — think bullying, adjusting to a new environment, a heavier work load, and endless body changes. According to a study published in the American Educational Research Journal, which compared kids who attended grades 6-8 in either a separate school, a K-8 school, or a 6-12 school, these years could be much less stressful for everyone involved if they took place tacked onto the end of elementary school.
The study's researchers examined what's called the "top dog"/"bottom dog" phenomenon, "which states that students at the top of a grade span ('top dogs') have better experiences than those at the bottom ('bottom dogs')." In K-8 schools, the "bottom dog" scenario was eliminated, and the tween students were the "top dogs." This had a positive impact on everything from sense of belonging to academic achievement, and it resulted in decreased incidents of bullying and fighting.
In short, these kids were much less stressed and happier at school than those who attended a separate middle school or a 6-12 high school.
Although the "bottom dog" scenario would eventually come into play once a student entered high school, pushing it back those three years gives a child more time to enjoy childhood and gear up for a big change at 14 — as puberty is ending and self-confidence has been building — rather than at 11 years old.