Middle School Philosophy and Structure
The journey through Middle School, from Sixth through Eighth Grade, is marked by tremendous intellectual and academic growth. At the same time, during these years students are confronted by often tumultuous social, emotional, and physical development. Our Middle School faculty is dedicated to fostering students’ curiosity, skill development, and desire to learn, while helping them cope with the challenges of being 11 to 14 years old.
Roy Parker, head of middle school at Pittsburgh’s Sewickley Academy, says, “The very best middle schools flourish through the connectedness that links all constituents, intimately, to a belief in and yearning for success at their school. It is that simple." Sharing that philosophy, we approach every decision about what we want the Middle School at MPH to be by thinking first and foremost of the success of our students. Our teachers work to develop active, independent learners who will be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be comfortable with the changes they will encounter in the 21st century.
Beginning in Middle School, students are assigned an advisor each year. This advisor is a teacher at the student’s grade level and is the contact person for that student. Once a cycle, each advisor meets with his or her advisees to discuss current happenings in the School and in the local and global communities. It is a time during which teachers and students build the relationships that make students comfortable in turning to their advisor with a problem, question, or just a need to talk. This Middle School advisory system is important as advisors help students transition from the type of support found in Lower School to the independent learning environment of Upper School.
The advisory program, combined with life skills and health courses, brings students together in small groups to work on a range of academic and social-emotional skills, as well as the “executive” skills (things like self-regulation and organization) that will help them manage their lives. The program promotes students’ growth as members of MPH and their understanding of their responsibilities to each other, the school community, the greater community, and themselves.
Following a block schedule, students take classes in the traditional core subjects of a liberal arts curriculum and are able to move into Upper School demonstrating both competence in academic disciplines and ownership of their learning. Middle School students study a World Language – their choice of Latin, French, or Spanish. Beginning in Seventh Grade, Algebra is offered to students who are ready and excited about the challenge. Science courses are lab-based and include a long-term, annual research project that culminates in our spring STEM fair.
Our Middle School faculty members understand adolescents. They construct developmentally appropriate learning experiences based on the best practices of independent schools to meet the needs of our students, no matter their stage of adolescent life. Middle School programs are successful – and our Middle School students learn, mature and thrive – because of the talented and dedicated faculty you will meet as you explore the possibilities at Manlius Pebble Hill School.
In this first year of Middle School, the personal and social attributes developed in Lower School – self-reliance, empathy, service, creativity – are called upon as the focus now shifts to relationship-building. Students move more easily through the “middle years” when they have a steady foundation based on friendships with peers and productive relationships with people across the community.
Throughout the year, Sixth Graders work and play together. They form teams for Winter Carnival and Red and White Day, work in groups on science labs and other endeavors, and form bonds in advisory and tutorial periods. They are encouraged to assume leadership roles, including running for leadership team. Early in the school year, Sixth Graders embark on an overnight wilderness trip to the Catskills. That class trip, designed as both a learning and bonding experience, is followed by a service-based trip to a local farm in the spring.
Academic achievement, of course, remains a prime goal. During the first semester, teachers work to ease the transition from Lower School to Middle School by helping students with organization and time management skills. Sixth Grade is not a breeding ground for competitiveness. At MPH, childhood is still celebrated in Sixth Grade and learning is the prize everyone wins for effort. Children are guided toward academic success with encouragement and care so that their confidence as learners and new members of Middle School is strengthened. Leaving behind the homeroom environment of Lower School, Sixth Graders follow a schedule that allows them to have a “home” in the team leader’s classroom, as well as their individual advisor’s room, while introducing them to departmentalized courses throughout campus. Students study a World Language in Sixth Grade, participate in daily physical education or dance classes, and rotate through classes with different students.
Seventh Grade is a unique year for students. The middle of the middle school years, it is a time full of dramatic personal change, as well as neurological growth. Seventh Graders are constantly watching, striving, bouncing and needing! We know this about our students and design the academic program around Seventh Graders’ developmental needs.
For one period each school day, for example, boys and girls are separated and take classes in single-sex groupings. Using gender-separate classrooms allows our Seventh Grade boys and girls to talk about “growing up” issues ranging from sexuality to bullying and social aggression in a venue that is non-threatening and to then apply these discussions to the daily challenges they face.
Seventh Graders further develop academic and research skills in challenging classes in the core disciplines. While they are provided continuity by traveling in academic clusters throughout the day, the additional enrichment courses they participate in allow them to feel some independence, too. Students take abbreviated courses like Life Skills, How Stuff Works, fitness, and technology. This independence and the fully departmentalized structure of classes contribute to students’ growing sense of being responsible for their own learning – a key understanding for future success in Middle and Upper School. Students continue to participate in daily physical education or dance classes and further their study of a World Language.
Seventh Graders begin to participate in after-school interscholastic athletics. There are numerous sports teams open to them at the modified level, including tennis, soccer, cross country, basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse.
During this culminating year of Middle School, students are looking ahead to Upper School with wide eyes, though their teachers realize they are not ready for the next division quite yet. There is still important work to be done in Middle School.
The Eighth Grade curriculum hones in on study and research skills, exploration and thought, advanced problem-solving and all that is demanded of a successful scholar. The Eighth Grade academic menu offers students greater choice. Enriched science and art are offered, health is a part of the curriculum, and there are options among math courses. All students take an introduction to Eastern Cultures called “Chinese Kaleidoscope” to continue broadening their horizons as they become members of the global community. Independent learning in each classroom expands, and opportunities for personalized experiences are introduced.
Experiential trips are essential to Middle School, and Eighth Grade is no exception. A trip to Washington, D.C., taken in the spring, is an urban adventure that challenges students to respond to a major city and all that it has to offer. Navigating city streets, Metro lines, and crowds are part of this dynamic experience in the nation’s capital.
The Eighth Grade program enables students gradually, thoughtfully, and with intention, to complete the transition from the protective environs of Lower School to the more independent Upper School setting.