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 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.
Parker is 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.
One of the most visual examples of “Learning by doing” in our middle school can be seen observing our middle school science class. Under the direction of John Sherry, our students are actively engaged with lab work to explore scientific principles and pursue their own burning questions. Currently, John is leading his 6th and 7th grade students through a unit on density. Using cubes of the same size but made of varying materials, the class is exploring how density is different from weight. Students first compared their cubes using scales, and then contrasted those findings with what happened when the cubes were dropped in water. After watching his heavier cube sink, one student observed, “But wait! A boat is SUPER heavy, but it can float! Why would that be?” Guided by student questions like this and the findings from their experiments, John will spend the coming weeks and months supporting his students as they discover the underlying scientific principles surrounding density based on their own experiences.
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 our 7th grade presidential election. As part of their advisory, the 7th grade class is reflecting on current events by studying the election process and holding their own class election. This week, campaigns competed in their first debate, answering questions like “Why do you want to lead your class?” and “What is the biggest problem facing our 7th grade class, and how do you plan to deal with it?” 
Watching Parker’s 7th graders debate was a joy that we wish everyone could have been privy to. Our students were articulate, reflective, and respectful. They listened thoughtfully to both the questions and their opponents, and their responses were crafted to respond directly to their opponents opinions and the issues at hand. One 7th grade candidate for President spoke to his desire to set up a class suggestion box, saying “As president, I want to listen to what the people want, and I want to answer their problems. I am here for the people, and their suggestions will always be my number one priority.” Another student spoke to the biggest problem facing the 7th grade, saying “I think it’s obvious that the biggest problem facing our class this year is the coronavirus. Because of that, health and safety always need to be our top priorities. However, I also think that one of the most important things we can do for each other as a class this year is to prioritize respect and kindness. As your vice president, I would always work to ensure our interactions are safe, respectful, and kind.”
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 newest 5th grade middle school students say it best: “I like being a middle schooler because I feel in charge of my learning.” “I get to go really deep into subjects that I am interested in because my teachers are specialists in their fields.” “It makes me feel good to do more advanced work, and my teachers take time to explain things to me.” 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.