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06 July 2008 @ 12:26 am
On Writing (Resources): The American School System  
The classification and organization of school systems are arbitrary, and the American system is no exception. It has different options for how Elementary, Middle/Junior-High and High Schools are grouped, and certain grades have special labels. This resource is intended to help non-Americans become acquainted with some of the terminology for American schools, and to match student ages to the appropriate grades.

It is not meant to be comprehensive for all possibilities in various parts of the U.S., but to provide some general guidelines.

The American School System


American schools usually have a "cutoff deadline," meaning that a child must meet the minimum age by a certain date. That varies from place-to-place; it might be the start of the school year in one city, October 1st, November 1st, November 15th, or some other date. It is rarely earlier than September or later than mid-November. The school ages below are the age children typically are AFTER meeting the cutoff deadline:

Kindergarten (optional in some areas) is for ages 5-6
First grade => ages 6-7
Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth grade progress from there (the math is left to the reader). These are referred to as "XX Grade" and not "Grade XX."

There is some vagueness about how certain grades are grouped in various types of schools, depending on the school district:

* Kindergarten (or First Grade) through Eighth Grade is one form of Elementary School (also called Grade School)
* Kindergarten (or First Grade) through Sixth Grade is another, which is followed by Middle School (7th and 8th grade, sometimes also 9th grade). A grade 7-8 or 7-9 school is sometimes also called Junior High.
* Kindergarten (First Grade) through Fifth Grade is the last type, with Middle School then being 6th, 7th and 8th grade. (if there is a 6th grade in it, this school will never be called a Junior High)

High School is either 10th-12th grade OR 9th-12th grade, depending. These grades have alternate names in high school:
9th Grade => Freshman (except when at Middle School, where it's just 9th grade)

10th Grade => Sophomore

11th Grade => Junior

12th Grade => Senior


These designations repeat for colleges/universities, i.e., first year of college is Freshman year, last year is Senior year.

"Junior" or "Community" College: this is two-year institution that some students go to instead of regular college, typically due to poor grades or lack of money (or both), or not yet being certain what they want to do with their lives (in or out of college). More recently, students frequently choose to go to Junior/Community College to get their General Educational Requirements out of the way at a cheaper price, and then transfer the credits to a four-year institution (thus lowering the total cost of obtaining Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college/university).

Additional notes: Americans graduate from a grade or institution, and receive grades (not 'marks') on their homework. Someone with good grades has a good chance of going to college.

Wikipedia may offer more details on any of the subsections of this listing, and there is a LiveJournal community called little_details where you can ask questions about specific cutoff dates and school groupings for a particular U.S. region or city.


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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 8th, 2008 05:14 pm (UTC)
The more rural an area is (which is where the vast majority of canon and fanfic settings place the Winchesters), the more likely it is to see a K-8/9-12 system.

This makes sense, logically, though I've never lived in a rural area myself. Funny- this shift from Portland (K-8/9-12) to Eugene (K-6/7-9/10-12) sure wasn't due to population!

I didn't mention the "one-room schoolhouse" situation either, mainly because it's not that common and this is just meant for foreigners to get a basic grasp on the usual situations and why there are overlapping terms like "middle school" and "junior high" not mention that they don't even necessarily have to exist!
girlguidejones: Sammy thinky thoughts by causettegirlguidejones on July 9th, 2008 01:28 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. I hope I didn't make you feel that this was lacking in any way. I meant to throw in the little bit I could contribute, not to imply inaccuracy. I think these reference posts of yours are *infinitely* valuable!

(I wouldn't have bothered with mentioning one-room schoolhouses either. Even *I* haven't seen one of those in working order, even though I went to school in a structure which housed 6-8 in a building with less square footage than my house! Heh.)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 9th, 2008 07:55 am (UTC)
Oh, I didn't take it badly-- no worries!

I sometimes revise these based on feedback from readers (for instance, I expanded the community college section a little bit for other reasons people might go there, because it's useful for character-shaping).

I'm afraid of the one-room schoolhouse thing, because I'd hate for a writer to either assume that they're more common than they are or to have another non-U.S. writer rain down a call of "BS" on them for daring to mention the possibility. :0

We do have at least one in the foothills East of here, which really surprised me, but I guess the area is really a junction of scattered small towns that really isn't very populous and isn't easily close to larger towns (at least, not in bad weather). It seems like such a thing of the past, but I guess a lot of it is practicality.