Three years ago, Broward County Public Schools combined an elementary school and the middle school next door to create Gulfstream K-8 Academy in Hallandale Beach. So how's it going? The principal says he's a big fan of the concept.
"Since we're all one family, one school, it completely eliminates the scary jump from elementary to middle school because it's the same thing," said principal Robert Pappas.
There are big advantages, Pappas says, to being able to mold kids for nine years. Bonds are created between the students and teachers, and between older and younger kids. They see it happening in the GLOW Girls club. It's an acronym for Girls Leading Our World, 80 girls representing each grade, from K to 8, going on field trips and meeting community leaders.
"They get to see things that they don't see every day," said Laqueshia Brinson, the community liaison who created the mentoring club. "It's a sisterhood, every time I turn around they're taking care of each other."
GLOW Girls is unique to Gulfstream K8.
"But it's not just mentoring, it's way more than that, she teaches them to be good citizens, she teaches them entrepreneurship skills," Pappas said.
The school's band just got going, so all the kids are beginner musicians, but a first step has to be taken on any journey. It's part of Gulfstream's philosophy.
"We want to offer every single possible thing that a kid could be interested in," Pappas said. "We work them very hard in reading, math, language arts and science, so if they want to play the trumpet and have some fun for a couple of periods, we encourage that as well."
The school has an Agents of Change club, sponsored by the United Way. These are 7th and 8th grader peer counselors who do charity projects at school and out in the community.
"They're having fun being able to give back," said faculty advisor Stacie Conner. "The social-emotional aspect of peer counseling is just vital for our students to learn."
Gulfstream also has a dual-language academy for grades K through 5, with one additional grade being added each year. That's a key program for a school with more than 400 ESOL students, kids who are still learning English.
"And we take both sides of the coin, you could be a native Spanish speaking student, who takes dual language to learn English, or vice-versa, where you're an English speaking student who wants to learn Spanish," said Pappas.
The Gulfstream Colts participate in all the middle school sports, they have a cheerleading squad, and as a designated STEM school, the faculty starts planting the STEM seed in kindergarten.
The hope is that by the time they're in the middle school grades, the kids are ready for robotics and coding and more advanced engineering concepts.