My DD is in fourth grade at our neighborhood elementary school, where she has been academically successful and enjoys a circle of really kind friends.
We have an option for sixth grade: Keep her at the elementary school, where there is one sixth grade class, or send her to the local middle school, which serves some 600 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade students.
At the middle school, there are honors classes, electives, music every day if they choose, PE every day, art. In sixth grade there, they change classes three times a day. At the elementary school, it's one teacher, one classroom, music and PE twice a week, minimal art. The rumor among parents who've gone before me is that the "less academic kids stay behind" at the elementary school. The other thing every parent has said is, "Our decision was based a lot on where my kid's friends were going."
My DD would be 10 years old when she starts sixth grade. She's a September birthday in an area with a Dec 2 cutoff and lots of fall-birthday kids who started kindergarten at 5 instead of 4, so she's young. She's an A student, but not in the accelerated program. She's naturally reserved, and has gained confidence by being in a familiar setting since first grade. She would be most comfortable staying at the elementary school, but not necessarily most challenged.
In my heart, I want to keep her young and close and protected for as long as possible, and middle school scares me. We are in an upper-middle-income suburban area where already we walk a slightly different path simply because we're a little crunchy and we subscribe to the Hold On To Your Kids approach (book by Gordon Neufeld). My DDs enjoy their friends, but their souls are fed at home and, outside of seeing a few nice friends for playdates maybe once a week, they spend most of their time with each other and DH and I--family time. Most of the children in our community are involved in LOADS of peer-based activities and are encouraged to socialize as much as possible. Being well-liked and loaded with friends is highly valued in this community and kids are stacked up with playdates in a way that seems very socially competitive. For this reason, middle school--with its intensely peer-oriented student body and all that striving to conform--feels like something we're not ready to expose our DDs to any sooner than we must.
However, the academic program at the middle school sounds superior, and parents I know who have sent their sixth graders to middle school have had no complaints. The music program in the middle school is said to be terrific, and my DD is very into violin, so that's enticing as well. Also, there is an argument for sending her in sixth because it's like "middle school lite"--the sixth graders are kept separate from the 7th and 8th graders for most of the day and they switch classes only 3 times instead of 7 (like they do in 7th). Supposedly it gives sixth graders a chance to get used to the middle school experience, the homework, etc.
It's a big topic among big DD's friends' parents right now, too--we all are on the fence about what decision we'll be making this time next year (it's registration time). I need to do more research, but I wondered if any of you have faced a similar situation? I'm eager for any insight you might have. (I'm going to cross post this in Education.)