Bierbaum Elementary class experiments, finds success with ‘looping’ grade-levels

Class ‘looped together’ from fourth to fifth grade

Teacher+Jennifer+Osborn+and+her+fifth+grade+class+at+Bierbaum+Elementary.

Photo by Lucas Irizarry

Teacher Jennifer Osborn and her fifth grade class at Bierbaum Elementary.

By Lucas Irizarry, Staff Reporter

One Bierbaum Elementary class was part of an unusual experiment this school year, following teacher Jennifer Osborn from fourth to fifth grade.

Often in elementary school, students will be reassigned each grade-level to a new teacher, causing a mix up of students as they receive new designations. Students in Osborn’s class petitioned to continue with Osborn after receiving inspiration from an assigned book, “Because of Mr. Terupt” by Rob Buyea.

The book follows seven students and Mr. Terupt who teaches the class about acceptance and finding inner strength. Terupt suffers a terrible accident, causing the students to try to continue using his lessons without their teacher. By the end of the book the students loop with Terupt to the next grade.

The plot has many parallels to the half-remote school year Osborn’s class had in fourth grade, including some lack of face-to-face interaction with teachers and the camaraderie the fictional and real classes were able to create. 

“He ends up in a hospital for quite a part of the year and the kids feel like they missed out on time with him. Last year we missed out on some of our time together … being virtual for the first couple months … and half (virtual) the rest of the first semester,” Osborn said. “Every time (the students) would see Dr. Morris they’d kind of bombard him. They were really the ones who spearheaded it.”

Principal Paul Morris said he originally laughed off the idea of looping, but after examining the challenges of a virtual school year, he thought it was worth a try.

“Given all the challenges we had last year, I thought it was a great time to experiment. To start on a small scale with one classroom … it just made sense to give it a try,” Morris said. “I went to Mrs. Osborn and said, ‘Your kids have been advocating for it, what do you think?’ She said, ‘With this class, I’d follow them anywhere.”

Morris said he values Osborn’s willingness to take a risk and he hopes to find more ways to “challenge the status quo” and get kids what they need.

Morris and Osborn said there are many advantages to looping, but the change in curriculum and extended amount of interactions can put a strain on teachers and students. Osborn said it creates a family atmosphere, and families can have “ups and downs.”

The continuation of a new school year with the same students and teacher benefited the class in several ways. Outside of a growing relationship, Osborn was also able to keep track of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, while creating a curriculum that accounts for exactly what students learned in the past.

“I loved on day one … getting ready to jump right in. It’s nice having that background from last year,” Osborn said. “There’s a lot more tie-ins. It brings together each year and makes it more unified.”

Fifth-grade students Anisa Hussein, Drea Herbig and Anthony Goga said they liked being able to remain with their friends from one year to the next, and the removal of the unknown helped to reduce stress that usually happens at the beginning of each school year. Osborn said some students will ask her to loop to middle school with them.

Osborn and her class were recently honored at a Mehlville Board of Education meeting, and she said the fact that students and parents came to the meeting showed they care.

“This has been the greatest experience I have ever had, it’s really cool to be able to do this,” Osborn said. “They’re great kids.”