Grouped By Age Range

Research does not support the idea that all children of the same age should be able to learn the same things in the same way at the same time. (See Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.) So, from ages 5 through 13, our classrooms are grouped by age range, taking into account chronological age, gender, academic needs and social/emotional maturity. Grade designations begin in 8th grade — what we call our 8th Grade / Transition Class — in preparation for high school.

Buddy Groups

“It's critical that younger kids see models of what they can accomplish so they can visualize their own success and learn persistence.”

- Tara Terry, Lower and Middle School Principal

A few years ago, Lower School teachers were looking for new activities to enhance The Howard School’s March Reading Month – a celebration of reading that coincides with National Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss’s birthday. They decided on Reading Buddies, pairing Middle School students and Lower School students in their own classrooms to read aloud to each other. It wasn’t intended to be extra work, just kids enjoying good books together.


From the beginning, the benefits were clear. Lower School students looked up to the older students, seeing them as proof that reading could be mastered. The older students who struggled with reading got valuable practice in a casual, fun setting with young students who loved spending time with them.

Now every Lower School class participates in Reading Buddy activities, getting together several times a year with their Middle School buddies to read to each other. The groups also take part in several reading-related activities throughout Reading Month, which concludes with the annual Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast and gives reading buddies a chance to share a delicious and fun meal together.

More on Buddy Groups

“Shared activities remind us that we’re all in this together,” explains Tara Terry, Lower School principal. “It’s critical that younger kids see models of what they can accomplish so they can visualize their own success and learn persistence. The message is pretty powerful – ‘older kids have made it; so can you.’ “

The buddy concept is growing as more activities take place across grades. High School students have given mini-Spanish lessons to Lower School students. A Lower School class and a Middle School class buddied up to study Earth science. A Middle School class decorated a Lower School classroom for Halloween. All students belong to their own schoolwide buddy team, and work together on these teams to compete on Field Day each year. High School teacher Jon Fredericks and the senior class perform an annual Giving Ceremony – a traditional Native American celebration – for a Lower School class.

Independent schools like The Howard School can make the most of the buddy experience because all ages and grades share the same campus and can get together multiple times in different venues.

“Education isn’t a single moment, it’s a process,” Terry says. “And our students have the unique power through buddy groups to help each other improve and to enjoy the process.”

No Grades Until High School

While teachers measure student progress regularly and share their achievements with parents via student-led conferences, letter grades aren’t given until our Transition Class. GPAs are calculated starting in 9th grade, when students study a college-preparatory curriculum culminating in a Georgia College-prep diploma. Carnegie Units and credit hours are tracked on a standard transcript.