The start of school is filled with optimism. Kids, despite protestations to the contrary, look forward to seeing their friends and discovering who they will become this year. Parents harbor hope that this will be the year that their child truly comes of age academically and socially. Helping students reach their potential is unquestionably our goal for each child who joins our community. For all of our students, we want August 23, 2022, to be a fresh start, the first step of a nine-month journey which we hope will be filled with good challenge, new opportunities, and the chance to discover new capabilities academically, artistically, and athletically.
I am occasionally asked how parents can support their children to find success as Middle Schoolers. While the answer is different for each child, and one size never fits all, I will share a few thoughts on how you can support your child academically and socially. As with all advice such as this, please shape it to meet the realities and needs of your child and family.
Students new to the Middle School are likely to initially feel that the homework load has increased and that the type and number of assessments are more robust. This is intentional. We seize the opportunity which the 50-yard distance between the Lower and Middle School provides to “grow” student expectations and capabilities. While initially challenging, at the end of ten weeks, students are in the groove, and what was an organizational challenge is now nightly routine. Middle School teachers are proactive in teaching the organizational and study skills students need to manage their new responsibilities. Parents can assist this transition by:
Ensuring that school is the top priority by not overscheduling outside activities and lessons
Providing a quiet and distraction-free location for doing homework—for some students this is a private location like a desk in their bedroom; for others it is a more public space like the kitchen table
Helping to establish a routine—after a half-hour break to relax after school, it is homework time until dinner. Whatever works for your family schedule is best, but most children are more able to focus and are more productive earlier, rather than later, in the evening.
Being available to answer a question with a question—helping too much with homework is a disservice to kids. Being given the answer undermines the process and delays learning desirable traits such as determination, tenacity, and independence. Put differently, the only way a teacher knows that a child needs to learn or relearn a concept or skill is by seeing the “mistake” on the homework or paper.
Please remember that our teachers are your allies in this process. Should you have questions about how things are going or about how you can be supportive, be in touch with your child’s teacher or advisor. It is intentional that we have Back-to-School Night early in September (September 8) and parent/teacher conferences in October. We truly want to be your go-to resource to support your child.
Middle School can be a wonderful AND challenging time for students. Friendships can shift as students grow and change. Adolescence by its very nature is a time of tremendous social and emotional growth, a time for students to develop the social skill set that will serve them well for a lifetime.
This process of developing a more nuanced social understanding and ability to navigate the social landscape takes time and lots of practice. Unfortunately, one child’s “practice” can lead to another child’s hurt feelings. It helps to remember that most children are unintentionally on BOTH sides of this equation multiple times each week—sometimes each day—as they try to find their way socially.
It is also helpful to remember that the Middle School years were when each of us made important discoveries about the difference between a friend and an acquaintance and what it meant to have a “true” (and “false”) friendship. These are significant moments in a child’s life and can only be learned first-hand through the give and take of social interaction.
Our teachers and school counselor are active and involved social coaches for our students. We certainly don’t see every interaction, and Middle Schoolers are adept at knowing when the teacher is just around the corner. That said, we care deeply about creating a kind and thoughtful student culture in the Middle School and are proactive in helping students make the best possible social choices.
Parents can support their child by:
Recognizing that valuable learning is going on when things are going well socially, while also understanding that even more important lessons about friendships and relationships are being taught when they are not
Modeling for our children how we believe others should be treated—our kids watch our every action much more carefully than they listen to what we say.
Being a good listener to our child when they are ready to share a bit about how things are going—we can’t solve their social problems or make friends for them, but we can let our child know that we care for them and believe that they can learn and grow.
Carving out time for one-on-one get-togethers outside of school—short “hang out” times organized around an activity—game, sport, activity, or craft—can encourage a friendship that can then take root at school more quickly.
Sharing with your student’s advisor or Abby Johnson, our school counselor, what you are seeing and hearing at home—we have lots of experience helping students get over a bumpy patch socially and want to help. At times, though, students do such a good job of “putting on a good face” at school that we may not know when something is not going right.
Parenting a Middle Schooler is not for the faint of heart. You are likely to experience on this journey some of the greatest highs and some of the lowest lows. The prize at the end of the road, though, is significant: seeing your child’s academic and social skill set grow, and with it, their ability to navigate their own life more independently. Will they continue to need us as counselor, coach, and, yes, rule-setter? Of course. Still, our goal as educators and parents is to help each child discover their talents and move from greater dependence toward autonomy. I look forward to working with each of you this year. Please remember that my door is figuratively ALWAYS open. Together, let’s make this a wonderful school year for every child in the Middle School.