Willows students grow through the years on a single DK-8 campus, in an environment that recognizes the needs of each developmental stage while fostering connection and continuity. Scientific studies point to significant benefits in a DK-8 program. Leadership and mentoring opportunities, skill development, multi-age learning, emphasis on math and reading instruction, and the safe, encouraging community at The Willows lead to a smooth transition to high school and academic and personal success.
Each division—Primary (DK through Grade 2), Upper Elementary (Grades 3-5), and Middle School (Grades 6-8)—is housed in its own building, with an academic program tailored specifically to the needs of each age group. At the same time, our specialists in visual arts, music, drama, technology, library, and athletics teach across the grade levels with a continuum of programming that enables all our students to develop their talents and passions.
Teachers also collaborate closely across the divisions to create opportunities for multi-age learning throughout the year—from our “Book Buddies” program that pairs upper elementary students with primary students, to our “Science Buddies” program, where middle schoolers design and implement hands-on science lessons for students in the younger grades. In addition, multi-age groupings occur during our Lower School Community Days each Friday and during Intersession, the three week period between Thanksgiving and Winter Break when our entire school focuses on one theme in cross-disciplinary in-depth learning.
Scientific studies indicate significant benefits to the K-8 (or in our case, DK-8) structure. In one study that compared K-8 schools to traditional 6-8 settings, researchers found that K-8 students scored higher on SATs, were more likely to be enrolled in selective high school programs, and earned higher GPAs in 9th grade .
Another study found that the academic success of K-8 students was due to the focus on math and reading instruction. This is certainly true at The Willows: by combining the English and history disciplines in the middle school Core classes, our teachers focus on reading and writing skills within multiple contexts. Our middle school schedule makes time for in-depth study (such as double-block science) and interdisciplinary explorations (such as Intersession). We believe that in middle school, students are still “learning how to learn,” which is why we focus on skills as well as content.
One of the greatest benefits we offer our students at The Willows is the opportunity to lead during their middle school years. As the oldest students on campus, our middle schoolers are role models, providing mentoring and leadership to the younger students and developing a more mature understanding of their role in the community. Our younger students benefit from engaging in hands-on activities with mentors and role models. The DK-8 culture promotes empathy and understanding across all grade levels.
As students grow with us on campus, they develop a sense of connection—to each other, to the school, and to the greater community. It’s one of the factors that enables our students to transition successfully to high school and the world beyond, having begun their education in a place where they felt safe, cared for, and connected to the people around them.
 Look, K. (2009). The great K-8 debate. The Philadelphia Education Fund. www.philaedfund.org/notebook/TheGreatK8Debate.htm
 Abella, R. (2005). The effects of small K–8 centers compared to large 6–8 schools on student performance. Middle School Journal, 37(1), 29–35.