Classrooms: Charlemont Academy to add sixth grade

  • The Academy at Charlemont in Charlemont. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Academic Dean John Schatz, right, talks with seventh grade students during their study hall in the library at the Academy at Charlemont. Students, from left, are Charlie Por, Atticus Rudolph, Gus Grinley and sixth-grader Skye Loomis, who was visiting the school. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

For the Gazette
Published: 12/19/2017 11:33:26 PM

CHARLEMONT — Beginning next fall, the Academy at Charlemont will enroll sixth-grade students in its classic academic curriculum.

Head of School Brian Bloomfield said sixth-graders coming to the Academy will be able to take fine arts electives, and an academic program that includes life science, pre-algebra, English, civics and an introduction to Latin. They will also be able to serve on a school leadership council, play on middle school athletic teams and take part in schoolwide community service projects.

According to Bloomfield, the Academy, which draws about one-third of its students from Northampton, Amherst and surrounding communities, has been talking about adding sixth grade for at least two years. The board of trustees voted in November to move forward with the plan. Bloomfield said he expects between three to eight students to enroll for next year’s sixth-grade class.

The Academy at Charlemont now has 85 students enrolled in Grades 7 through 12. Bloomfield said starting students at the Academy a year earlier provides a chance to build relationships with them sooner.

“How many look back on their middle-school years as one of the favorite times of their life?” Bloomfield asked rhetorically. “I’ve been asking this for over 15 years, and very few respond. It’s just something that we get through.

“Even the name — middle school — isn’t interesting. And yet, these children are going through wonderful, interesting challenges, physiological and social changes. I feel the Academy has a history of seeing them as who they are. We can offer a program that teaches them to celebrate this part of their life, rather than ‘just get through’ it.”

Founded in 1981, the private day school had accepted students in the fifth and sixth grades in earlier years, Bloomfield noted.

When asked if declining enrollment is one reason for adding an additional grade to the school, Bloomfield replied that the school “doesn’t ever plan on being larger than 115 to 120 students.”

“We are small by choice,” he said.

Bloomfield said the school may hire additional teachers but has enough space to accommodate an expanded student body for at least the next three years.

He said the sixth-graders will take most of their classes together but will be able to take ability-based electives along with students in the upper grades. He said students of different grades eat lunch together and work together on community service projects.

When asked if the Academy was motivated to add sixth-graders because the Mohawk Trail Regional School District is preparing to put six-graders into its middle school, Bloomfield said that was not a factor. “We’ve never really tried to compete with Mohawk,” he said. “We’ve decided to be the best of who we are. If Mohawk decides to go this direction, I hope it’s for the best.”

He added, “I feel we offer a different enough service from Mohawk.”

Mohawk has proposed moving sixth-grade students into the middle school in 2016. Former BEST chairwoman and current Mohawk School Committee Chairwoman Martha Thurber said Mohawk won’t be ready to make such a change at least until the fall of 2019. Although most educators favor the move, annual Town Meeting voters won’t have their say until this spring. If the full eight-town district votes for the change, it would occur a year later, to allow for a smooth transition.

Mohawk Trail Regional School District has been talking about moving its Grade 6 pupils out of the elementary schools and into the Mohawk Middle School. Educators hope the earlier connections to Mohawk will deter students from leaving the district when they get to Grade 7.

Reach Diane Broncaccio at or by phone at: 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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