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Multiplex schools

What is a multiplex school, anyway? Glad you asked! These "schools within a school" are gaining in popularity and may be just the right answer for your child.

By Linda Jacobson

After protesting with a hunger strike in 2001, residents of the predominantly Mexican-American Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, southwest of downtown, received not only the high school they were asking for — they got four high schools. The Little Village Lawndale High School (LVLHS) campus houses four separate, small high schools: Multicultural Academy of Scholarship High School, World Language High School, Social Justice High School, and Infinity Math, Science, and Technology High School. Each one was created in response to what parents said they wanted in a learning environment for their children.

Sharing what is considered a state-of-the art facility, each school has its own principal, teaching staff, and unique theme.

These “multiplex” or co-located educational environments, however, are becoming less rare, especially in dense, urban areas such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

The rising trend towards multiplex school

LVLHS — and similar schools around the country — take the school-within-a-school model to a different level. In one building, there might be a traditional school, a charter school, and a magnet school with a special theme like the arts. These multiplexes are different from typical school-within-a-school models, such as academies or learning communities because each school on the campus is led by a different principal and operates autonomously. Multiplexes have been created for a variety of reasons.

  • First, they are part of the trend toward smaller schools. While research on the benefits of small schools is mixed, the general goal is to give students a more personalized environment so that stronger connections can develop between the adults and the students in the school.
  • Second, the growth of charter schools has contributed to these models. Charter schools often have limited or no funds for facilities so they might lease space in an existing school that has available classrooms or an empty building.
  • Third, these schools are an attempt, as in the Chicago example, to provide a more specialized or career-focused experience for students that they might not receive in a traditional program.
  • Finally, more than one school might be sharing the same campus because of a lack of funding in that district or state to build new facilities. And in districts where enrollment has dropped, it is likely more cost-efficient to operate one building at capacity than three or four in which part of the building isn’t being used.

What are the advantages of a multiplex school?

As mentioned, creating a school-within-a-school can be a more cost-effective method of school reform than opening an entirely new school. Saving money on start-up and operation costs can mean there is more available to spend on instruction and learning materials.

The benefits of attending a multiplex can be similar to those associated with small schools — such as the potential for stronger relationships between students and teachers. There can be less of a chance that a student will get lost in the crowd or that his or her academic or social needs will go unnoticed.

If students know that someone is counting on them to be at school every day, they may feel more engaged in school and, therefore, more motivated to do well in their classes. Some studies have shown that this type of downsizing can result in better attendance and behavior, as well as improved academic performance. In a smaller environment, a student may also have better opportunities for leadership or recognition.

It’s also possible that a school-within-a-school is providing an educational focus or academic opportunities that are not provided in a traditional school. In a multiplex school, parents can also inquire whether their child can participate in any of the classes or programs offered by another school on the campus, such as an advanced class or an extra-curricular activity. Instead of having to find transportation to a school across town, the student can simply walk upstairs or to the other end of the building.

In a multiplex, students may still have access to common areas and facilities that are intended for everyone on the campus, such as the gym, the playground, the cafeteria, a performing arts space, and the media center. A large building or campus shared by multiple schools is more likely to have these features than a freestanding, small school.

Finally, a smaller learning environment may also have positive effects on teachers. With a smaller staff, teachers may feel that their ideas and opinions are recognized more than they would be in a traditional environment and that they have the chance to be innovative and try new approaches.

Linda Jacobson is a freelance education writer who lives in Southern California.