A New Year for Learning in Middle School

Beginnings are important.  Setting a tone, creating a thoughtful school culture, helping others get off to a good start; this ALL matters in the early part of a school year.  

Three moments from early weeks of school stand out and are representative of our beginning.  The first is seeing one of our new-to-the school sixth graders at the end of the first day walking arm in arm toward the busses with a student who is a “CA lifer;” the second is watching the boys on the seventh and eighth grade soccer team be incredibly honest as well as kind as they did a drill that demanded kids to “own up” when they made a mistake; the third was hearing that during the first four days of school, our students checked out more than 200 library books!  Taken collectively, these small moments represent the kind of learning community we want to be.  In the Middle School, we want children and adults to take care of each other, practice expressing good character and be curious by exploring new books, new subject areas, arts and sports.  Summer is wonderful, but being back in school, back in community, is where growing up truly happens! 

I am always impressed by the Middle School faculty and what they take on each year for our students.  In this sense, no year is a repeat of the last.  This year, we have a new Innovation and Design Studio that will house our innovation and computer science program, our robotics club and inspire students to invent, tinker and create.  Our seventh grade class will enjoy a new Advisory Overnight in Golden Gate State Park.  This program, we hope, will allow our seventh grade to develop outdoor and communication skills while building camaraderie as an advisory.  Mr. Green and Mr. Luong are launching an optional “Cool Down” student gathering each six day cycle.  Cool Down, in Mr. Luong’s words, “will be a space, place and time for students to gather to share opinions and thoughts about what has been going on in school and in the world.  Kids, like adults, need a safe space to listen and share with one-another.”  We are also changing the vehicles we use to examine division-wide progress.  In the past we used ERBs, this year we will use the MAPS math assessment, the CWRA+ critical thinking test and the WrAP writing assessment.  These national assessments align with our goals for the students.  In this sense, the tests will help us collectively track student progress as problem solvers, communicators and mathematicians.  These examples of improved opportunities and experiences for our students barely scratch the surface of our teachers’ efforts to evolve our program to meet student needs. 

What hasn’t changed (and I hope never will) is our focus on creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, character and cross cultural competency, CA’s 6Cs.  We continue to believe that skill development over time in each of these areas will be critical to our students’ long term success.  Time last year was devoted to mapping at each grade level the major assignments that intentionally give students skill development and practice in each of these areas.  Similarly, we continue to believe that students benefit when we bring the world into the classroom and provide students with myriad chances to engage with complex problem solving.  “Real World” problems create engagement which most often leads to students giving their best effort and creating high caliber solutions.  We continue to believe that practice with Design Thinking, a process for intentionally solving problems in an iterative and creative way, will benefit students as will doing Performance Tasks which demand students to take a side and defend their decision using complex evidence.  Finally, we remain steadfast in our belief that we serve children well by helping them develop their ability to collaborate, make friends, navigate uncomfortable conversations, and solve interpersonal problems thoughtfully.  Courage and kindness continues to be our watchwords on this journey together. 

One of the important messages we have for all students every year is captured by the word, YET.  Learning and growing is not supposed to be easy.  It is challenging to push yourself to be a better person and student.  Learning algebra or how to write persuasively can be frustrating in the extreme.  Through it all, the good times and bad, we encourage our students to have the mindset of I CAN do it, I just haven’t achieved it YET.  With this attitude mountains are climbed, problems are solved and growth, little by little occurs. 

“The Middle School years are magical and unpredictable in a wonderful way.  They are filled with striving and discovery as only a 13-year old can pull off.  The Middle School teachers and I welcome you to the school year and look forward to a first-rate year together.”

Learning happens one student at a time.  With this in mind, I am eager to hear about your child’s experience in our program and want to extend the opportunity for parents to set up a time to visit with me at any time during the school year.  We try our best to create a first rate learning environment, but I am positive that we don’t always get it just right.  Like the Three Bears, sometimes we go overboard with too much homework, sometimes too little.  Sometimes we provide students with too many learning options, sometimes not quite enough.  In ALL cases we are shooting for the Goldilocks’ formula of just the right mix of challenge and support that will allow all students to benefit.  Your feedback matters.  To help this along, I offer three or four Open Door Mornings between now and June.  While my door is often literally open, I know that many parents are reluctant to pop in to discuss with me how things are going for their son or daughter.  On these mornings, though, I set aside time for twenty minute meetings with whoever would like to say, “Hello.”  Sometimes we discuss something that is pressing, and at others, these meetings simply provide an opportunity for us to get to know one-another better.  The first of these mornings will be Monday, October 9.  To make arrangements to meet with me please call or email Fran Clark, the Middle School administrative assistant.    

The Middle School years are magical and unpredictable in a wonderful way.  They are filled with striving and discovery as only a 13-year old can pull off.  The Middle School teachers and I welcome you to the school year and look forward to a first-rate year together.