It is intentional that Colorado Academy Middle School students don’t get to decide whether to take an art class or participate in athletics; instead, it is a given. This is because we believe that these experiences help students develop skills, and we know that early exposure often has the wonderful outcome of igniting lifetime interests. How do you know if you love racquetball, field hockey, technical theater, or ceramics unless you give it a try? Of course, on a deeper level, we are trying to encourage an “I will, I Can, and I Want To” approach to life. “I will give it a try, I can do it if I bring a great attitude and work hard, and I want to continue trying other new things.”
Growth mindset and opportunity to practice
There has been quite a bit written about the importance of a growth mindset, the predisposition to believe that we are not limited by innate ability, but rather achieve due to practice and effort. We now know that practice literally rewires our brains at a physiological level, allowing us to accomplish much more than expected. Of course, we know at CA that students need more than just a positive attitude and willingness to try something new; they also need opportunity, expert instruction, support, and the chance to “go deep” over time. That is why the partnership between Lower, Middle, and Upper School works so well. To put it simply, the Lower School establishes positive predispositions to learning, the Middle School offers opportunities to try new things, and the Upper School allows students to pursue what they are excited about in great depth. One facet of this journey is no more important than the next, but together, CA allows children to grow in spectacular and sometimes unexpected ways.
The Middle School piece
For example, this means that our Middle School students are intentionally asked to spread their wings and explore novel arts and athletic endeavors. In athletics, our Sixth Grade program exposes all of our students to a wide variety of sports, games, skills, and activities. Whether it is Field Hockey, Basketball, Floor Hockey, Volleyball, Soccer, Tennis, Ping Pong, Badminton, Racquetball, Cross Training, Yoga, or a vast array of physical activities, by the end of the year, our students will have figuratively tried it all.
Along the way, students also get the chance to dabble in mini-seasons in three sports. Similarly, in the arts, Sixth Graders take drama, visual arts, choir, and a computer science/coding art class. As Seventh and Eighth Graders, these same students will be introduced to some combination of studio art, graphic design, ceramics, video, contemporary/hip hop or tap dance, jazz band, rock band, orchestra, or technical theater.
This means that Middle School students are given the gift of exposure in both arts and athletics knowing that, over time, each child will make decisions about which art, sport, or activity is of ongoing interest. Without exposure, young people often draw conclusions based upon hearsay or messages in the culture at large about what boys or girls “should” be interested in. Having had the opportunity to experience firsthand these activities under the supervision of a caring teacher, each now has the chance to decide for him or herself whether to take the next step and continue specific study and training in the Upper School.
The CA dilemma
Because of this integrated approach—exposure followed by in-depth study—many of our students have what I call “the CA Dilemma,” the desire to be involved in more arts, sports, and activities than time in the day allows. This is by almost any measure a great problem for young people to have….My life is just too full of opportunity. I want to play Tennis, Basketball, Field Hockey, and Lacrosse and I want to do video, the musical, choir, ceramics, and visual art. Of course, it is a dilemma. Nonetheless, hard choices need to be made about what to prioritize. Still, in the end, we hope that wherever our graduates go after CA, they take with them the predisposition to give new things a try. You never know what you might discover….