|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.
Parker is also unique in that we keep hands on learning at the center of our middle school experiences. At an age when most students are expected to sit still for longer and memorize more, our students are able to engage in experiential, tactile learning that occupies both their bodies and their minds. Learning in this way has the power to engage kids in a way that lectures and worksheets simply do not. Hands on challenges allow students to explore and recognize that there isn’t always one answer. Furthermore, they can experience failing in a way that is healthy, a natural part of the learning process. When they do fail, our students have the opportunity to troubleshoot and fix their own problems. This allows for that all-important sense of accomplishment and confidence that lights up so many faces here at Parker.
No one knows more about the transformative power of the 6th-8th grade years here at Parker than our middle school teachers. Derek Fox, our esteemed social studies teacher and current 8th grade advisor, speaks firsthand about the middle school experience at Parker: “I feel like Parker students come to our middle school ready to flex their independence. When they are in elementary school, their relationship with their teacher is very close, but it is also more dependent. By middle school, they are growing up, and they want to be treated like an independent person. I like that because it means I don’t need to necessarily stand in the center of the classroom and give direct instruction every day. I can model activities, show some examples, talk through things as a group, and then give them the freedom to independently implement what we have discussed through their projects. That allows me the time to have conversations with each student and assess each student individually to see where they are.”
“I feel like middle school students can advocate for themselves here at Parker. If there is a concern, if they have a problem, if they have a question about a topic, or a worry, they know they can come directly to us. They have that comfort level. We are a small school, and that allows kids to develop close relationships that give them the confidence to speak up for themselves. That’s an amazing quality to have in life, to be able to go directly towards a person with your concern. Parker puts kids in the driver’s seat and lets them feel like they are in control of their own education.”
One of the culminating works of a Parker middle schooler’s career is the 8th grade thesis project. Derek, who guides students through this process, spoke of the many benefits this work holds for our future graduates: “The eighth grade thesis work reflects one of our central philosophies at Parker which is raising kids to become independent thinkers. We allow our students to make choices, to explore, and to choose a topic that has meaning to them. We are not telling them what to do. We are just planting the seeds, and the students take it from there. We give them time to research using scholarly sources, and they are excited to do it. They want to explore their topic. They want to see if there is an answer, or an alternative, or a solution. They are very passionate, and you can see it in their writing and in the questions that they ask. As a teacher, I am always so proud when it comes to thesis night. They put in four months of work, and then they have this opportunity to shine.”
“I’ve had the honor of being with this class of graduating 8th graders since they started middle school. I have seen them transform into the individuals that they are today. I’ve been with them through so many different experiences — in the classroom, out in the field, cooking vats of pasta, or one of our many field trips — and it has been so fun and exciting to watch them develop and go through all these changes. It has been incredible to watch their growth. Whether it’s research or public speaking or just their relationships, I can see where they were and where they are now, and it’s such a giant leap. That is all thanks to a Parker education. Here, research and public speaking skills don’t just start in sixth grade, it starts in PreK. By the time they get to me, I just help polish it up. I remember the first few weeks of working on assembly with these kids, I sort had to walk through it with them and build their confidence. Now they don’t need me anymore, and I miss that. I don’t want this year to end in many ways because I so look forward to seeing them every day.”
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 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.