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The Benefits of a K-8 School

In a recent letter to parents, CDS Head of School Judith Foley Arnstein wrote that, “In many ways, Charleston Day School is doing what Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood did for generations of children—creating a space for students to feel safe, known and cared about. In fact, there is significant research that supports that Kindergarten through eighth grade schools like Charleston Day School are the best educational models for children aged 5 through 14. In K-8 schools, children excel and become the best versions of themselves. Charleston Day School is a place where ‘kindness is king’ and where every person has a talent to be celebrated. It is a place where academics and social-emotional wellness go hand in hand.

“If I could design psychologically safe schools, every elementary school in America would go from K through grade 8 and would be no larger than 400 children.” — Dr. Michael Thompson, Ph.D., NY Times Bestselling Author


A recent study in the Middle School Journal indicated that students in K-8 schools had higher academic achievement than those in traditional middle schools. In addition, students in K-8 schools surpassed those in traditional middle schools in math, science and reading. Students at Charleston Day School also excel in fine arts, foreign languages (Spanish and French) and electives (in grades 7-8) such as musical theater productions, The Clarion, movie making, film study, German, life skills and more. The K-8 model maintains high academic standards while addressing each student’s individual learning style and interest, developing a self-aware graduate with the skills necessary for high school.

Social-Emotional Wellness

The K-8 model provides education for the whole child, with an understanding that social and emotional development supports academic achievement. The K-8 environment is a safe place for students to explore, grow and push themselves. In this type of environment, they will challenge themselves more than they will in a larger school, in which they may feel unseen. Students in K-8 schools are able to form and sustain long-term relationships with teachers and peers. Whether shaking the hand of the Head of School at morning carpool or sharing a meal with a teacher or staff member in the Student Commons, children at Charleston Day School do not go unnoticed. If a child loses a tooth, someone notices. Likewise, when a shirt is untucked, someone offers a reminder to tuck it in. Encouragement abounds as well as redirection when needed. Character is modeled in a caring community and reinforced day after day.

Because elementary children in the K-8 model remain in the same environment through middle school, there are fewer transitions in the adolescent years. And without grades 9-12 attached, the middle schoolers aren’t curious as to what their older peers may be doing. Instead, they are simply concerned with their own appropriate level of development and acting as a role model for the younger students.

Leadership Opportunities

Although opportunities to develop leadership are available in any grade, it is the older grades (5-8) at Charleston Day that there is an emphasis on providing leadership opportunities. Beginning in fifth grade, students are assigned a “Lil”, a younger student to mentor over the coming years. Being a role model to a little one builds friendships, community and character. The fifth grade year also brings the annual Dottie Rhett Speech Contest, in which students compose and deliver their first of many CDS speeches. The public speaking curriculum culminates in the eighth grade year when students share personal speeches before the entire school in Assembly.

By the time students are in eighth grade, they are celebrated as leaders of the school and given responsibilities and opportunities to grow in that leadership. They act as junior docents, becoming an expert on an artwork at the Gibbes Museum of Art. They may also participate in Student Government, lead Assembly with their Middle School Advisory group, walk off campus for lunch every Friday or visit Memminger Elementary to work with the children. As well, there is a confidence that comes with assessing one’s academic achievements and making plans for the future. The process of selecting and applying to secondary schools allows our students to consider their many options and choose a high school that will best support their continued growth and success.

Preparation for High School and Beyond

In a K-8 school, whether in the classroom, art room, stage, field or court, students in each grade are prepared to succeed. You don’t know how a student will change as a learner from Kindergarten to eighth grade, but in a K-8 school, they are immersed in an environment that allows them to collaborate, communicate and develop as an independent thinker. By eighth grade, parents may better understand the learning needs and style of their child, and that self knowledge allows for better decisions regarding high school placement.

Before the eighth grade year, students meet with Andy Willits, CDS High School Counselor, to assess their achievements and strengths and begin to identify secondary schools that would be a good fit. The high school application process fosters personal growth and accountability and adds a seriousness of intent to classes in seventh and eighth grade. Over the course of the year, students will work on mock interviews, prepare for testing, and shadow and apply to high schools of choice. Nearly every Charleston Day graduate attends his or her first choice for secondary school. Recent ACT data research presented in The Forgotten Middle shows that students must have college and career readiness skills by the end of eighth grade “so that they are prepared to maximize the benefits of high school.” It also states that “the level of academic achievement that students attain by eighth grade has a larger impact on their college and career readiness by the time they graduate from high school than anything that happens academically in high school.”

Charleston Day School graduates are prepared for whatever comes next, whether high school, college or career. CDS students excel in grammar, composition, mathematics, public speaking and foreign languages as well as strong academic discipline and habits to sustain them through high school and beyond. Socially, they are confident and comfortable in different situations and meet challenges head on. A firm handshake and a look in the eye go a long way to building a strong first impression, and a Charleston Day School graduate also has the character to sustain it.

Ultimately, Charleston Day’s K-8 educational model provides students with self awareness, self advocacy and academic success. Combined with the emphasis on character development and public speaking, these traits allow CDS alumni to become valuable contributors to any community they choose to join in the future.