Why Middle School Matters

Being in the middle is a position not often celebrated in our society. Middle children, middle of the back seat, a mid-life crisis — all are associated with the need to cope with a special set of “in-between” circumstances that somehow impacts one negatively. The same can often be said of middle school…but NOT here at Parker! Parker believes that middle school is one of the most exciting and formative times in a child’s life, and our program is carefully tailored to celebrate and nurture adolescents through their delicate tween and teen years. Our middle school curriculum is built around tapping into students’ interests and helping them discover and explore their passions. Middle school inspires future leaders by challenging them to inquire, to think, to reason, and to act. Creative problem-solving, respect for each individual, and collaborative learning are hallmarks of our middle school culture. Our talented and supportive faculty understands and responds to the unique needs of adolescents, fostering in students a sense of confidence, ethics, responsibility, and respect for themselves and others.
As Rose Nolan (MS Math teacher) explains, “Having students for multiple years allows us to develop meaningful relationships during the middle school years at Parker. Students express that they feel safe to share their ideas and opinions, explore new interests, and be who they are. It’s so inspiring to see students grow, discover their passions, and share in their accomplishments.” Ian Marvinney (MS English Language Arts teacher) adds, “Parker gives us the opportunity to build lasting relationships with students that extend beyond a single academic year. In the classroom, these relationships allow for meaningful collaboration.” John Sherry (MS Science teacher) offers the following insight, “Parker provides freedom for students to explore and ask questions about all things. Students advocate for themselves here more than I have seen in any other educational setting. As a result, I think they are more prepared for the real world and do not feel like they need to rely on direction or help from others for every little thing.”
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. 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.
Visual examples of “learning by doing” in our middle school can be seen in every single classroom. This week, for example, our 5th grade mathematicians presented hand-crafted 3D models they created as part of their study of volume. Rather than drilling equations from a book, Rose had each student choose an object of interest to measure and then replicate, allowing students to both practice and apply their calculating skills. Under the direction of John, our 6th and 7th grade scientists are deeply immersed in a study of electricity. After learning the principles of basic circuitry, students are now actively testing their knowledge by building robots. Meanwhile, in social studies with Derek Fox, our 6th and 7th grade students are examining the scientific revolution by acting as reporters to communicate the news of the time. Using their research skills, each group studied one scientist and then published an entire newspaper page to share with their class. Sample pages included factual reports, editorials, letters to the editor, and even advertisements reflecting their chosen scientist’s life within the context of the society they were living in.

Student work becomes meaningful when our students can see their learning reflected in real life, and those connections become even more relevant as our students grow towards young adulthood. This is why Parker middle school teachers look for every opportunity to connect learning to real-world experiences. One outstanding current example is Ian’s 7th grade advisory, where they just launched their Butterfly Effect Project. This signature 7th grade experience began as an initiative from Parker parent and CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman. Now in its sixth year here at Parker, the Butterfly Effect Project is named after the idea that small causes can create large effects. Steve was inspired by Chris Rosati, a man diagnosed with ALS, who wanted to spread kindness by giving people $50 with only one rule: do something kind. This week, each 7th grader received their $50 mini-grants for Parker’s Butterfly Effect Project. This project will challenge our students to cast themselves as a pebble into the pond, exercising their skills in planning, communicating, collaborating, and executing projects based on their values that will create ripple effects of good deeds in the real world. Stay tuned to learn how our 7th graders spread kindness in our community this year!

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 love that our connections with teachers and friends are so strong!” “We have plenty of time, space, and freedom.” “We get to choose what types of projects we do, or how we want to present a topic. Because of this, I almost never feel stressed when it comes to big assignments in class.” “We get to go outside everyday, and in our classes everything is very interactive.” 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.