Middle school students still benefit from Kids Unlimited programs, even as 6th, 7th and 8th graders transition away from the organization’s public charter school.

Kids Unlimited Academy created a collaborative plan to condense its middle school population by half during the upcoming 2023-24 academic year and ultimately phase out middle school the following, 2024-25, academic year. Administrators, teachers, parents and students weighed numerous local factors and nationwide trends to arrive in April at this decision.

KUA’s middle school families have been making plans and notifying KUA leadership where they intend to enroll, including Medford School District’s soon-to-open Oakdale Middle School. KUA now is beginning the process of selecting students for its smaller 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes for 2023-24. Middle school opportunities for KU afterschool enrichment and summer, winter and spring break camps remain a vital part of the organization’s programming.

The change at KUA is the first step toward aligning the school’s remaining kindergarten through 5th grade enrollment with other Medford 549C elementary schools, as 6th graders districtwide will be newly encompassed in three middle schools, said Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited. KUA also will refocus on its original mission of providing children at the primary level with resources to thrive academically, emotionally and socially.

The longer-term KUA mission is high school graduation, college success — and beyond, said Cole. This mission was confirmed in surveys and meetings of KUA parents, students, staff and the school board.

The KUA board had wrestled with the challenge of building a better high school transition program, said Principal Jani Hale. They considered whether KUA’s exiting 8th graders were enrolling in 9th grade courses for college-bound students. Questions around how well students formed friendships and adjusted to high school also played a role.

KUA’s first class of 8th graders will graduate high school this year. KUA formed as a public charter school, initially serving 1st through 3rd grades, in 2013. By 2016, the school had expanded to kindergarten through 6th grades.

“The transition to high school has not been easy for many of our graduates,” said Hale. “For the past five years, we have watched our students experience varying degrees of high school success.”

Hale and other KUA administrators began discussions in February with staff, parents and students about the school’s trajectory. All national studies, said Hale, indicate schools that focus on high-quality primary programs build stronger foundations for academic success in the middle and high school years. KUA stakeholders arrived at the decision to rededicate the school to this process — beginning with its youngest students — and this outcome for all students’ brightest futures, said Hale.

“We are sensitive to the politics around these decisions,” she said.

KUA added pre-K to its student body in 2019, expanding in 2020 to its White City campus to serve students in the Eagle Point school district, as well as transfers. The expansion helps to alleviate a local — and nationwide — shortage of quality pre-K programs and affordable child care.