Perhaps more than any other time, middle school is a crucial stage in a student’s life. Sixth through eighth-graders experience rapid mental and physical development, yearn for new freedoms and challenges, and form lasting ideas about themselves as adults. With this in mind, our classes support the acquisition of essential skills and habits of mind, encourage creativity and exploration, and help students gain a valuable sense of confidence and self-efficacy. By the time they finish eighth grade, students not only have the academic and self-management skills they will need in the years ahead, but are comfortable with collaborating with their peers and teachers, with thinking critically and independently, and with just being themselves.
We keep our classes small, with an average of ten students per class. This gives students ample opportunities to work with their teachers, to participate in discussions and small group projects, and to influence the direction of the class. Students and teachers are on a first name basis, and teachers encourage improvement by giving timely, meaningful feedback. As in the earlier grades, students take a range of thought-provoking classes in the core academic subjects, as well as in the arts, foreign language, computers, and physical education. We also frequently challenge eighth-graders to take high school classes in math, science, social studies, and foreign language.
Good teachers know that students often learn the most when they are working toward achieving a meaningful goal, using multiple skills, reason, knowledge, and creativity to do things like answer an open-ended question, write a short story, or design a scientific experiment. This is the beauty of student-driven projects, which are featured in many classes and represent our preferred method of learning and assessment. In addition, each year students complete a Middle School Project on a topic of their choice that may lay outside the regular academic curriculum. Recent examples include a timeline of the universe, knitting, an examination of video blogs, and designing a medieval castle.
Middle School students participate as leaders in the larger New School community, organizing all-school events, running for student-government positions, and interacting as equals with their elementary and high school classmates. They also plan middle school-only events such as trips to the movies, an overnight lock-in, and a laser tag party.