Moving sixth-graders to West Brazos Junior High would bring major change to a close-knit community, but many parents and educators believe it’s the right thing to do.
In June, Columbia-Brazoria ISD Board of Trustees called for an $11.5 million bond election to fund an expansion to the junior high school that would accommodate sixth-graders. If voters approve the debt in November, the district should be able to issue the debt without a tax rate increase, according to a fact sheet.
During open meetings regarding realigning grades between the district’s elementary schools, community members made it clear they would prefer sixth-grade students to be at the junior high school rather than the current placement at elementary schools.
The junior high was built in a manner that makes it easy to expand, Superintendent Steven Galloway said, and the sixth-grade wing would extend from the back of the library toward Highway 36, requiring minimal moving of utilities.
The junior high is absolutely ready and willing to welcome sixth-graders, Principal Alfred Black said.
“It seems like it’s the right place for them to be,” he said.
The committee met several times with PBK Architects to design an expansion that should “set us up for success for the next 10 to 15 years,” committee member Kevin Patrick told the board in June.
The design includes 10 classrooms, two science labs, two sets of student restrooms and two large group instruction rooms, according to the fact sheet.
Officials picked this design of the three PBK developed because it is most economical and presents less of an impediment to full instruction continuing at the campus during construction, Galloway said.
The wing would hold 250 to 275 students, but it could be renovated or expanded to hold more if needed in the future, he said.
If the bond passes, the district hopes to open for the 2021 to 2022 school year, Galloway said.
Moving the sixth-grade students will allow them to fully participate in junior high extracurriculars. West Brazos Junior High has an extracurricular participation rate of about 61 percent, Black said.
“It’s more than just going to school,” Galloway said.
Right now, band directors travel throughout the district to teach the junior band students at Barrow and West Columbia elementary schools, Band Director Jared Hackett said.
If all of the sixth-graders are together at the junior high, it will improve morale and bond the kids through their activities at an earlier age, he said. Currently, students tend to already think of themselves as part of the “Barrow band” before they ever come to seventh grade, Hackett said.
“It opens up the sense of community early on,” he said.
The change would keep teachers from having to adapt to each school’s culture when they travel, Hackett said. They’re not better or worse, but every school is different, he said, and it would be better for all students to be a part of West Brazos Junior High.
Hackett went through C-BISD as a student, attending sixth grade at Barrow Elementary, he said. He had a “very good experience,” which brought him back to teach, but he feels like the change is warranted.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” Hackett said. “It’s something we’ve always hoped for.”
Besides expanding the junior high, adding about 100 parking spots, improving the security vestibule and the traffic flow, the $11.5 million bond would also bring a band hall expansion.
That would involve knocking out two walls to expand about 10 feet on either side and add another 130 or more lockers, Hackett said. That would allow for more walking space in the band hall, where they could have specialized classes for percussion and specific instruments, rather than teaching them in groups of different instruments like they now do at elementary schools, he said.
More individualized classes will help students be successful, Hackett said.
“Kids want to be good,” he said.
The change could also allow a pre-athletics class for sixth graders, since the same teachers would be over sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade physical education, Galloway said.
“The opportunities are endless,” Galloway said. “Right now, those are just opportunities we don’t have because of the time and travel.”
It would meet the kids’ needs at a higher standard, he said.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Moving sixth graders away from West Columbia and Barrow would leave those schools more room for growth during the next 10 to 15 years. If voters do not approve the bond, the district would redraw elementary school boundaries and transition to grade-level schools, according to the fact sheet.
It could also help the sixth graders’ maturity levels more than being with second-graders and younger kids, Barrow Elementary Principal Tara Belote said.
A sixth-grade wing at the junior high could be a good transition to secondary education, she said.
Sixth-grade students can go deeper into subjects than the grades below them, said Angela Martin, who teaches sixth-grade English, language arts and reading at Barrow. They are more independent, can understand and process things differently and work in collaborative groups, she said.
It’s exciting that sixth-graders could have their own space and wing, Martin said.
While Martin said Barrow is her home, she would be willing to move over to the junior high, she said, and would look forward to seeing her students as they go through seventh and eighth grades. Martin has a daughter who is a sophomore and she thinks she would have done well in junior high at that age, she said.
“My family, we definitely support it,” Martin said.
Barrow sixth-grade student Sydney Lamb said she thinks she can handle the responsibilities of junior high right now, but she worries about some of her peers getting lost on the way to class or not turning in assignments on time.
Sydney plays trumpet in the band and said she looked forward to all the options sixth grade provided her. She’s not too worried about the bond election, since she could be in high school by the time it happens, she said.
Many families are moving to the C-BISD area because of work, Martin said. Belote agreed, adding that the passage of the bond could alleviate the close to overcrowding of elementary schools.
“I think it’ll be a good thing for the community and students,” Belote said.
West Brazos Junior High is anxiously awaiting the election, Black said.
Early v oting starts Oct. 21 and ends Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.