Joy Jackson, a fifth-grader at New York School, had an earnest question Thursday about her class, which includes grades four, five and six.
"When the teacher teaches us something, how are the fourth-graders going to keep up with what the fifth-graders are learning?" Joy asked.
But New York teacher Mickey Woolard said it shouldn't be long before Joy discovers the answer to her question.
"There won't be just one level of instruction presented to a class, and I think the kids will start seeing that," Woolard said.
A greater ability to work with students at their individual levels is a major rationale for the multi-age groupings that New York School has started this school year.
New York has four classes combining kindergarten, transition first and first grade; three classes combining grades two and three; and three classes combining grades four through six.
Riverside School also has started multi-age groupings. At Riverside, three classes combine grades one through three, and another three classes combine grades four through six. Riverside kindergartners and transition first students aren't combined with other grades.
Woolard said the district's reading textbook series provides a good example of how multi-age groupings help individualize instruction.
If a fourth-grader is reading at the sixth-grade level, the teacher will have sixth-grade reading materials on hand for the student to use. Students might be divided into small groups according to their reading levels.
Judy Condra, who teaches grades one through three at Riverside, said she also will group students according to their interests on occasion.
"One of the first things I did (Thursday) was talk about what kinds of things the students are interested in, and we'll be trying to focus on some of those things," Condra said. "Dinosaurs are the big thing right now."
Condra said a unit on dinosaurs could include lessons on math, with students learning how much dinosaurs weighed and how many years ago they existed. She said students also could learn about social science by studying "who got along with whom."
And because the students are interested in dinosaurs, Condra said, they'll be more motivated to learn.
Mark Craig, who teaches physical education, said he already has seen another positive result of the multi-age groupings. He said the New York students he worked with Thursday had improved their behavior since last year.
"The younger kids are looking at their peers," Craig said. "Some of the older kids know what's right and what's wrong, and they want to show what's right. They feel a need to set a good example."
Curtus Wilkerson, a fifth-grader at New York, said he liked the multi-age groupings for that very reason.
"I think it's kind of neat because you get to work with the younger kids and teach them what you know," Curtus said.