The Puyallup School District made a commitment years ago to keep sixth-graders at elementary schools throughout the district. However, due to overcrowding, Zeiger Elementary sixth-graders have gone to Ballou Junior High a year early.
The decision came Feb. 23 after a series of community meetings in January focused on how to reduce the overcrowding in the district’s elementary schools. Within the district, elementary school encompasses kindergarten through sixth. Junior high is grades seven through nine.
Zeiger sixth-graders making the jump to Ballou are the first of many sixth-graders in the future to go to junior high early — regardless if the proposed $292.5 million bond measure passes. The bond mainly addresses the need for elementary school space.
Now that the school year is underway, Krista Bates, principal at Ballou, says one month into the school year, the transition of bringing sixth-graders to the junior high has been smooth.
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“We’ve worked really hard to make sure the sixth-graders feel welcome,” Bates said.
On Aug. 31, Ballou hosted a prep day, which was a special time just for sixth-graders to get to know the campus, complete with tours by upperclassmen.
“I think that helped with the transition piece,” Bates said.
The district brought in two new portable classrooms and revamped two more to provide the additional classroom space needed for the students. The sixth-graders also have their own bathroom right next to the portables, creating nearly a whole new wing just for them.
Bates made it clear that the sixth-graders are not Zeiger students at Ballou, but are full-on Ballou students allowed to participate in assemblies, dances, clubs and intramural sports.
“The sixth-graders have a lot of opportunities,” she said. “I’ve gone to the classrooms and talked to the students, and have heard nothing but positives from the kids. They like the independence to go to several different teachers throughout the day.”
While there are positives to having sixth-graders at junior high, Bates said there are an extra 110 students at Ballou this year, with every instructional space full.
“We feel it in the lunch room and assemblies,” Bates said.
While the district made the commitment to not send sixth-graders to junior high, overcrowding will continue to force the process throughout the district in the coming years, regardless of if the bond passes, according to Brian Fox, the district’s executive director of communications.
If voters approve the bond, the district will continue the movement of some sixth-graders as it builds and remodels elementary schools to accommodate the 1,600 more students who are predicted to join the district at the elementary level, Fox said.
“It will eventually impact other junior highs,” Bates said. “We were just the first one.”
According to the district’s website, in the 2016 school year, Woodland Elementary sixth-graders will go to Aylen Junior High. Sunrise Elementary sixth-graders will go to Ferrucci Junior High, as will Shaw Road sixth-graders. The trend will continue into the 2017 school year as well. Edgerton Elementary sixth-graders will go to Glacier View Junior High. Northwood Elementary and Mt. View Elementary sixth-graders will go to Edgemont Junior High.
“This bond is really important,” Bates said. “It’s important for everyone to vote.”