There are benefits to putting students into middle schools instead of elementary and high schools, but it's not a model that works in every community, says one education professor.

The Abbotsford school board passed a motion to remove Grade 6 and 7 from six rural elementary schools and instead send those student to middle schools, angering some parents who say those elementary schools play a key role in the community.

About one third of students who are of eligible age in B.C. attend middle school, said Sandra Mathison, an education professor at UBC.

But while middle schools have been around since the 1970s, they don't work for everyone, she said.

"We don't want to do things to diminish the importance of community schools. That's a very key factor in cohesiveness, parent support in schools."

Children in Grade 6 and 7 do take on leadership roles in elementary schools, she said.

"Many are potentially involved in tutoring younger children. So it creates and reinforces the notion that it is a community school."

The case for middle schools

While some middle schools have not produced the results academics expected, Mathison says people are still committed to the reasons behind creating them.

Bradner sign

This is one of several signs along Bradner Road calling for grade 6 and 7 classes to remain at Abbotsford's rural schools. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

One of those reasons is the rapid development that happens during early adolescent or teen years.

"There's an explosion of hormones," said Mathison.

"It is an in-between time that I think education psychologists and education researchers have seen as being unique — that it requires some special attention."

That special attention can come in the form of flexible time frames or an emphasis on an interdisciplinary curriculum, according to Mathison.

The goal is to smooth the transition from elementary to high school.

"[Middle schools] were meant to meet the emotional and social needs of kids in that 10 to 14-year range," she said.

"The intention was really less focused on increased academic achievement … and more on creating curriculum and pedagogy that makes sense for kids in this time of great change in their lives."

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Middle schools: pros and cons