The Gift of N-8, according to Head of Upper School Bill Lamb
Take a Deeper Dive into Grades 5-8 at RCDS, with Head of Upper School Bill Lamb. In this Deeper Dive feature, Mr. Lamb touches on specifics, like the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) assessment and how it’s used at RCDS, as well as the broader goals and benefits of N-8 education.
Deeper Dive: Q&A with Head of Upper School Bill Lamb
What made you want to become an educator?
When I was in sixth grade, I went to an all-boys prep school. There were adults who took an interest in me, and over time I figured out it wasn’t just because they liked me. It was because they liked kids, and that was really valuable. After college I thought, “Maybe I’ll become a teacher because my teachers were invested and cared about me.” As soon as I started, I got a lot of gratification out of it. It is rewarding to see people get better. And the great thing about kids is that they get better faster. The impact you’ve made is pretty much in your face.
Before RCDS you taught in K-12 private schools and now describe N-8 education as a gift. How come?
There’s a narrowing that can happen early in K-12 education, whether it’s curricular, co-curricular or sports. In schools when a student moves from one division to the next, the student is often prepared for the next division or next grade. So what some schools end up doing is designing their program only to get ready for things that are coming rather than focusing on where the student is now.
Our students move on to over ten secondary schools every year. We are not preparing them for just one math program or one world language program. We are teaching them how to be successful in any of these schools by preparing them for the different disciplines with age appropriate skills. The beauty of an N-8 is that students have more possibilities. We want to create options so that students can make choices later and we haven’t inhibited that choice. We try to design our program so that our students can explore multiple or many pathways. For example, a child who wants to be in the band and the chorus, and the soccer team can do all three with minimal conflicts.
Another great thing about N-8 is that as teachers, we enjoy working with young adolescents. We want kids to be their best 14-year-old selves, academically, personally socially and emotionally, when they move on from here. That’s what we’re going for.
What do you and Upper School faculty like about teaching kids in Grades 5-8?
It’s really amazing what happens between the ages of 10 and 14. Kids are exploring intellectual interests that are coupled with a rapid development of cognitive skills. RCDS is the kind of school where the faculty is in touch with kids from the beginning to the end of their time here. Students don’t move through our classrooms and then disappear. We see them at our lunch tables every day. Many of our teachers teach multiple grade levels or coach sports teams. Others chaperone trips. You get to see their development and it’s really gratifying.
When you come to an RCDS graduation you see the physical manifestation of this. Our eighth graders look like ninth graders when they graduate in June. And it’s not just their physical growth. We have 13 and 14-year-olds who can stand up in front of a couple of hundred people and speak confidently, whether it’s about sports or changing the dress code. It’s impressive to witness because that’s something a kid would not have been able to do three or four years prior.
RCDS administers the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) to fourth graders in preparation for Upper School. What does the assessment measure and why does RCDS use it?
The WISC gives us a snapshot — a very granular snapshot — of different cognitive areas in a child’s experience, as well as different kinds of processing and thinking areas. It’s very different than a kid sitting down and writing an essay when they’re having a bad day or haven’t read the book. WISC gives us a very good sense of where the child’s strengths and challenges lie, and how these layer together. For example, it can tell you why a particular student may complete work slowly but produces really good work. Or why another student might not take notes well. We then use that to inform instruction and revisit it as students move through Upper School.
Let’s go back to something you said earlier about the growth you see in students at the end of their RCDS journey. What other factors contribute to their growth and maturation?
Every school says they are a whole child place, but I think we really believe in it. We want our students to find meaning in their work. We are also very intentional about being age appropriate. We want our kids to be the best eighth grade readers on the planet, who can analyze text, construct meaning and draw connections. The same thing is true for math, social studies, and science. We do amazing stuff in Upper School, but it’s age appropriate, and gives them the skill set to tackle more complex work in high school and college. Regardless of the discipline, we want our students to recognize when they are struggling and then know how to ask for help. The struggle may be with academic content, or it may be with managing their time, or it may be with dealing with fellow classmates. If our children can identify the challenge and then seek help and the appropriate person they will be able to solve their own problems.
Whenever our graduates come back to visit, I always ask them, “You running the school yet?” That’s my goal for them, that wherever they land after RCDS, they have the confidence and capabilities to run the place. That’s the gift of N-8.
Bill Lamb has served as Head of Upper School at RCDS since 2006. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, and a master’s degree from the University of Delaware.
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