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. At today’s advisory, students celebrated the birthday of one of their peers by each identifying one thing they valued their classmate. They then participated in a celebratory game of Kahoot, personalized to the birthday student’s likes and interests.
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, Ian is taking time with his 7th grade students to tend to their Trout in the Classroom. Thanks to a generous grant last year, Ian and John procured a tank, chiller, and other necessary supplies for this project. They also attended a professional development symposium and educated themselves about the program. Over the course of the year, 7th grade students will raise the trout from eggs to fry and then release them into approved cold water streams and lakes. In the process, these students will engage in cross-curricular science and ELA projects centered on animal behavior, elevating their studies from classroom learning to hands-on, real-world experience. 
After a long academic block, our middle school students typically move to a special to close out their morning. Specials at Parker include Spanish, PE, art, or music. Today, our middle school students excitedly unpacked the kiln and revelled in the final products of their latest creations. Parker art teacher Claire Sherwood strives to give all of her students at least one opportunity to work with clay during the school year. Traditionally, Parker middle school students are challenged to create bowls for our Empty Bowls event to raise money and awareness around issues of food insecurity. In lieu of this year’s event, Claire still upheld the tradition of making bowls, as they are now a much anticipated and cherished keepsake item for our students.
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. Over the course of this past week, our middle school students spent their breaks and recess time engaged in competitive engineering for the tallest snow structure. If you look closely at this photo, you will notice a student standing four feet high on a secure, cantilevered snow protrusion. Unprompted creative problem solving at its finest!
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 graders are finishing their day in social studies by presenting their projects on the Industrial Revolution. Projects at Parker in general provide ample and diverse ways for students to “show what they know”, and this is no different for our middle school students. Derek offered his class three open-ended options for how to complete their final presentations: A diary entry asking them to put themselves in the shoes of a worker from the time (geared towards students who prefer written expression), an presentation using Google slides (geared towards student who prefer oral expression), or the opportunity to craft a 3D replica or diorama (geared towards student who prefer working with their hands). The final projects were as interesting and diverse as the classroom full of students they represented. *As a side note, the misspellings in the diary entry pictured above are deliberate efforts to recreate the writings of an industrial child laborer, who would have likely been functionally illiterate.
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. Today, our middle schoolers had the pleasure of participating in a school-wide scavenger hunt and s’mores roast organized by Nellie’s 3-4 class. Originally planned as a culmination to our Peace Week celebrations, today’s rescheduled event capped our week with the same spirit of excitement and camaraderie that we were anticipating heading into break. Nellie’s class painted rocks for every child in the school. Over the past few weeks, they made a map of the campus, designated areas for each class, hid their rocks, and marked the locations on their maps. This morning, the 3-4s delivered their map and first clue to each class, and this afternoon the entire school participated in a campus-wide scavenger hunt. Other examples of unscheduled but critical learning opportunities also occurred earlier this week, when a 7th grader shared his health fair project on meditation with our 1-2 class. Another two 7th grade students also shared a weekly news show they’ve been creating in their spare time with their advisory.

Parker middle schoolers spend their days engaged in deep, meaningful learning that is strengthened by a foundation of social and emotional security forged from mutual bonds of understanding, respect, acceptance, and admiration with their teachers and peers. The result is students that are not only confident, passionate learners but also kind, compassionate community members that give us much reason to be hopeful for our future.
*Robert C. Parker School follows NYS guidelines and protocols for school safety during Covid.