The struggle to make three divisions into one school

The struggle to make three divisions into one school

Notwithstanding recent efforts at ASL to coordinate the divisions, ASL’s three schools are still divided. Students and administrators believe the separation is necessary because of academic and developmental needs, as well as the architecture of the building.

Students and teachers keep to their own schools, with few exceptions. “Music teachers teach in all three schools,” Middle School Principal Cathy Funk said. Funk said that other specialist teachers may also cross school lines, but science, math, English and social studies teachers teach in only one school. In addition, there are only eight Middle School students currently in High School classes.

Assemblies and lunch take place at different times, which limits the interaction High School students can have with younger students. “I don’t even know the name of one Middle School student at ASL,” George Pomar (’17), said.

Nikolas Huth (’15), who has been at ASL since Grade 6, said that he has no interactions with the Middle School, but also said he saw no need for it.

This separation also occurs at other K-12 schools around the world. “I had a couple friends in the high school when I was in middle school [at the Anglo American School of Moscow]. The three schools are a little less connected here than at my old school,” Pomar said.

Funk agreed, saying that at her previous school, the Taipei American School, students at the three schools had lunch together “because we had a much bigger cafeteria.”

Funk contends that the separation might have to do with the architecture of the building, an obstacle that might not occur at other schools. “You don’t really see many Lower School students. The way the school is built is why we don’t see other age groups as much,” she said.

Middle School Technology Coordinator Colin Bridgewater agreed, noting that the architecture of the building reflects the educational philosophy of its origins in the 1970’s. At that time, administrators believed in open classrooms without walls. The building was later renovated to include walls, creating “that pod-like feeling” which is now difficult to alter and contributes to separation.

The building’s architecture “plays a role in both unifying and keeping us apart. We are in one building, which unifies us, but we are physically removed from each other in many ways,” High School Principal Jack Phillips said.

Head of School Coreen Hester elaborated on the building design, saying that the high school renovation above the gym in 2000 gave “divisional identity but also the potential for divisional divorce,” she said. At the same time, she noted that architecture helps connections in that everyone has to walk in front of each other and use the same gyms.

Most students don’t mind the clear separation between the three schools. “I don’t really think more of a connection is needed [between the three schools], because in my experience the transition from Middle School to high school is made smoothly at ASL,” Elijah Spies (’15), an ASL lifer, said.

Administrators like Funk also stand by the lack of connection between the three schools. “I don’t think there is a need for that [more interaction between the Middle School and High School]. What we do is appropriate, but we are always open to new ideas,” she said.

Huth disagreed and said there should be a better transition between Middle School and High School. “Going into ninth grade was like starting at a new school,” he said.

Phillips thinks that the transition between Grade 8 and Grade 9 is especially important, and he wants to make sure that students are prepared and that there is a “sense of coherent community.” Phillips added, “You need to balance wanting it to feel new with wanting it to feel similar.”

Every year, Grade 8 loses more students than any other grade, another factor that makes the transition to High School one of the most difficult in the school. While in general about 15 percent of students leave ASL each year, 20 percent of Grade 8 students left after last year, Dean of Admissions Jodi Warren said.

Recently, there have been concerted efforts to coordinate the curriculum between the three schools to make sure that the transition is smooth and that curriculum is not repeated. There is a “real interest in collaboration at the administrative level,” Phillips said.

More integration among the schools could be difficult.  Right now, Bridgewater said, the most interaction happens at sporting events, when Middle School students come to cheer on High School athletes.

Administrators do not think there is enough interaction among the schools yet. “We have this great opportunity to have buddy systems, or class partnerships. We are all sitting here at this big building. I think we should have more cross-divisional activities,” Hester said.

Hester emphasized that when she was hired as Head of School seven years ago, her most important task was to integrate the school. “We have appointed the first ever K-12 director of curriculum and instruction,” she said, in order to help connect the three divisions.

lev_cohen@asl.org