With the official start of winter and the arrival of the New Year, and with the world decked out in bright whites, it’s hard not to think about fresh starts and new plans. Even while the current school year continues its charted path to June, many of us are casting our sights further forward to plan for the upcoming school year and the inception of our boldest addition yet, the middle school.
A group of dedicated educators and others have been coming together regularly to think through the middle school development. What skills should middle school students master? What will the curriculum look like? What does the ideal middle school learning environment look like for girls? How can we best prepare seventh and eighth grade girls for the rigors of high school? Questions like these have driven our thinking and our planning, and though we haven’t answered all the questions yet or worked out all the details, we have developed a few guiding principles which act as our touchstones during brainstorming and designing.
First, master the skills. Skills such as critical reading, formulating questions, and close observation will be augmented by direct instruction in study habits and leadership development. Second, use the skills. All skills will be practiced and integrated into core subject areas and interdisciplinary activities. Finally—and this goes hand-in-hand with the second principle—keep it relevant. We want our middle schoolers to be deeply engaged and interested in their learning. Middle school should be a time when curiosity and interest in learning build rather than being squelched, which is what many of our ninth graders report as having been their experience.
So what does nurturing our students curiosity and interest in learning look like? Fridays will be a special day in the Academy middle school; having spent the previous four days immersed in content area learning, students and teachers will come together and use Fridays as learning labs. These learning labs will be directly related to core work but will give students access to the next level, which is relevancy. Fridays will be hands-on days, where students might engage in building or making; doing field work; visiting local sites of interest; or having visiting experts work with them on campus. For example, if students are studying a certain time period in Maine history, they might visit the Maine Women Writers Collection located at UNE right across the street. Students would have the opportunity to see and read letters, diaries, and other primary documents from the time period, written by Maine women. Projects related to the visit might include creating a documentary on a particular Maine woman; writing a mini-biography; exploring art movements or architectural trends of the time; or investigating scientific advances. The possibilities afforded by these flexible Fridays are very exciting and will allow for a level of collaboration, personalized learning, and individualized instruction rarely found in such a consistent and deliberate way.
Beyond academics we are intentionally leaving some things “to be determined” providing the inaugural class of seventh and eighth grade students the opportunity to shape aspects of their environment for themselves. This groundbreaking group of girls will help form new traditions and have a voice in which extracurricular activities we offer and more, encouraging and building their leadership skills in ways not possible at other schools. More to come on the next blog post about this, which is an exciting component of building our middle school in collaboration with our students! As a community, we are deeply committed to the service of girls’ education, and we are so excited about the prospect of extending our expertise and knowledge to a wider audience; please stay tuned for more details about our plans.
Rebecca Redlon, Academic Dean
Join us at our Winter Open House on Thursday, January 11th at 6:00 PM to learn more about our new 7th and 8th grade, and our High School as well. Click Here to register now. Additional questions? Email Us or call us at 207-797-3802 x 2022.