A Day in the Life of a Parker Middle Schooler

When you look back on your experience as a middle schooler, what do you remember? For most of us, memories of middle school are a mixed bag of very big emotions. The middle school years are primarily marked by change — changes in schedules, changes in bodies, changes in friends and social groups. Vulnerability is high, and often even the perception of failure can take on a magnified meaning. The confidence of middle schoolers can be very fragile.
Here at Parker, we understand this phase of development intimately, and we do everything we can to mitigate the uncertainty of the middle grade years. Research supports that K-8 schools specifically are uniquely positioned to help students in middle grades to thrive. Instead of being the youngest students in the building at such a formative developmental stage, our middle schoolers get to be big fish in our Parker pond:) As the oldest kids on campus, Parker students feel connected to their community and safer in their learning environment. They can be leaders and role models for younger children, and they feel more confident taking on intellectual challenges.
Today, we would like to present “A Day in the Life of a Parker Middle Schooler” to share with our community what it means to experience our innovative middle school curriculum first hand. 

Every middle school student’s day begins with a morning advisory. Parker’s advisory tradition was established to respond to the emotional challenges of adolescence, and it has become a sacred way to begin each day. Participation in advisory gives each student an opportunity to connect with their classmates and advisor on a range of social and emotional issues before launching into their academic work. This provides a mechanism for each student to be truly known and valued by both their teachers and peers, laying the foundation for confidence and participation in other areas of the student’s day.
Following advisory, middle school students move to a long block of time in a core academic subject like social studies, math, science, or language arts. Today, our 8th grade English Language Arts students are workshopping their thesis ideas. The 8th grade thesis is the culminating work of a Parker middle schooler’s career, and it reflects one of our central philosophies at Parker – raising children to become independent thinkers. Over the course of their project, these 8th graders will choose a topic that is meaningful to them, research using scholarly sources, develop a position, and ultimately defend their thesis to an audience of peers and adults. The effort and passion our students put into this project was already on full display this morning, as students staked probing, philosophical questions to each other on topics ranging from the efficacy of homework to climate change.After a long academic block, our middle school students typically move to a special to close out their morning. Specials at Parker include PE, art, music, health, and current events. For the past few weeks, our Health & Wellness students have been tackling the concept of perseverance. Working alone or in pairs, each student was asked to design a project that demonstrated what perseverance means to them. One group of students wrote a story to this theme, another chose an inspirational quote and illustrated their own artwork to accompany it. Several groups of students chose to extend their work beyond themselves and designed lessons in perseverance, which they then taught to the younger students. Today, our 5th grade class celebrated weeks of this diligent work with a Perseverance Party!One unique hallmark of our middle school experience is the opportunity for students to spend time outdoors. Our middle school students take advantage of breaks in their day and our flexible curriculum to capitalize on time spent outside. They also have a recess after lunch! Here at Parker, we believe that the benefits of recess (freedom to experiment, freedom to try on identities, freedom to fail) don’t magically disappear after 4th grade. In fact, research suggests that even during the teenage years, recess produces higher levels of creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance. At this time of year, it is very common to find our middle school students spending their breaks and recess time engaged in engineering various ramps and jumps that they competitively test during their sledding adventures.Afternoons in the Parker middle school follow an inverse to the morning’s schedule. Following lunch, students again move to a special, followed by a final academic block. Today, our 7th & 8th grade artists are working on their self portraits. This unit of study begins with a question: “Why is it that artists (and humans in general) feel the need to document themselves?” After considering historical and cultural examples and perspectives, students then move to reflecting on their ever-growing and changing selves, ultimately creating art that they feel best represents themselves. Meanwhile, our 6th grade musicians are working to master an instrument of choice for a choose-your-own-adventure musical unit. Academic topics covered for the afternoon included an introduction to a unit on “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 8th grade ELA, discussing the lived experiences of women and servants in ancient Egypt in 6th & 7th grade social studies, and exploring electricity in 5th grade science.Finally, no summary of a Parker middle schooler’s day would be complete without mentioning the opportunities that our flexible and responsive schedule provides for individual growth and community building. On this day, our middle schoolers had the pleasure of deepening their social and emotional learning thanks to a visit from a parent expert in the field, Max Levine, Professor of Psychology at Siena College. Max engaged the students in an advanced discussion about behavioral neuroscience and his research in the area of psychophysiology.  Max brought in a physiological signal recording device; a machine that measured heart rate and moisture in the hands. Beyond linking to our conversations about stress and how our bodies respond, this demonstration helped our students directly connect the relaxation techniques they have been learning to physiology, health and wellness.Here at Parker, our middle school students form close connections with dedicated teachers who believe in them and are invested in their future success. The results? Our middle school students say it best: “I can be myself because I feel seen.” “I have confidence because I have freedom.” “Parker is a safe environment where everyone feels welcome and understood.” These are such important factors in the lives of our 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.  Coming out of middle school as a confident, passionate learner and a nice person may seem like an impossible goal. However, here at Parker it is not only possible, it’s the norm.