Why the Early Childhood–Grade 8 Model Is Best for Every Child

Children need time, space and opportunities to grow. An age 2 to Grade 8 school provides much-needed stability and continuity throughout students’ childhood. This model fosters independence, responsibility and leadership in students who recognize their role in helping younger students.

This environment works best for producing strong learners and ethical leaders alongside teachers who understand children and their development.


Every day and every grade matter when it comes to building young learners.

Children who feel that every learning experience has significance are more invested and engaged, and they perform better academically. A Harvard study indicates that students who leave elementary schools for separate middle schools lose ground in both reading and math compared to their peers who attend K–8 schools.

That’s why Old Trail places intense focus on educating children from the earliest years through Grade 8, without rushing them to high school. Our teachers see more in every moment – because they know these moments become experiences, these days become years and these years form the foundation for everything to come. Old Trail celebrates childhood and discovery in ways that open children to the full wonder of learning.

“We hold the most precious years of their lives here. And we take them incredibly seriously.”
—Sarah Johnston, Head of School


These are the most important years for their development and their future.

Research on cognitive growth indicates that the early years of a child’s education represent the most critical time for their development. In fact, researchers from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine have found that the human brain develops the vast majority of its neurons, and is at its most receptive to learning, between birth and three years of age. The earlier a family can invest in their child’s education, the better.

Old Trail takes full advantage of this critical time of growth. Expert teachers in the early childhood division instill academic skills in language arts, math, Spanish and more, nurturing qualities like independence and resilience that will benefit each child as they continue their education.

They perform better academically in a model that spans from early childhood through middle school.

An NYU study indicates that students in K–8 environments perform better academically than those in solely middle school environments, and that graduates of K–8 models earn higher secondary school GPAs than those matriculating from standalone middle schools.

Rather than starting school in an unfamiliar place during their transition into adolescence, students in K–8 schools experience continuity surrounded by teachers, coaches, peers and friends who know them. Old Trail takes this farther by ensuring each child has a deep relationship with their teachers. As they approach the uncertainty of adolescence and face middle school’s academic challenges, Old Trail students are comfortable being authentic to themselves and achieving at their highest level.

As Old Trail students age, they recognize the context of their growth and see their former selves in our youngest learners. Older and younger students meet two to three times per month through our Buddy Program, which gives students from across divisions opportunities to read, hike or serve the community together – all while building deeper connections within our school. Our students accept the responsibility it takes to be a role model, taking advantage of organic leadership opportunities that do not exist at many schools.

There is no other way to replicate the effect of children learning in a place they know and in which they are known closely, particularly during the most important years of their development.


If you’d like to learn more about Old Trail or would like information about additional learning resources, parents should contact Susan Newman, director of enrollment management at snewman@oldtrail.org.

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