Thoughts of Middle School can often drum up mixed feelings for adults - a bit like a rainy day mixed with scattered sunlight. But at Saint Andrew’s Middle School, parents and students see it differently. They see Saint Andrew’s Middle School as a unique opportunity to paint their skies with rainbows. And while it might be cliche to say that no rainbow comes without rain, in grade 6 at SA, amidst the changing forecast of adolescence, students begin to discover their true colors.
From Dependence to Independence
‘It’s going to be hard’ - that’s what parents say when children start Middle School. It’s what teachers say too. To be fair, Middle School gets characterized this way partially because students and parents look back on the sunny days of Lower School and make some pretty big comparisons.
Compare this - one homeroom in Lower School to changing classes six times a day in grade 6. Now figure in having to open a locker dozens of times a day, managing an online learning system, getting to class on time, juggling after-school sports, and much more. No wonder students come home saying - Wow, Middle School is tough!
But thankfully grade 6 teachers at SA are well aware of the big leap students take as they enter Middle School. “I am so impressed with the way grade 6 teachers helped my daughter transition from Lower to Middle School,” said Tori-Lynn Saraniti, Middle School parent. “Instead of jumping in head first with a whole host of academic expectations on day one, the teachers created an orientation program that focused on the social, emotional, and academic needs unique to making that big transition,” she added.
In the face of the many adjustments in those first few weeks of Middle School, students inevitably discover one thing that they absolutely love about grade 6 - their newfound freedom.
The freedom to go buy a snack at the 10:00 am morning break, or walk with friends to class. “It comes up every year when I ask students in October, ‘What’s your favorite part of Middle School so far?’ said Jack Herr, grade 6 Science teacher. “They always say, the freedom,” he added.
With Freedom Comes Responsibility
A key focal point of Saint Andrew’s grade 6 program is the thoughtful way students are taught how to take personal responsibility for their learning. “Instead of expecting that students know how to check their work online on their own, or understand how to complete research for a project independently, in grade 6, we do a great deal of demonstration and repetition of very high and often new expectations,” said Nathalie Young, grade 6 Team Leader, and World Languages teacher. “We give students the skills to do things on their own, but in a way that shows them that we are still here to help and guide them,” she added.
A key part of facilitating greater independence for students is that grade 6 teachers get to know every student, inside and out. “The grade 6 cohort of teachers meets every day to share observations about students,” said Reed Martin, grade 6 Math teacher and 32 year veteran of the SA grade 6 program. “And with this sharing comes a great deal of understanding and acceptance of each individual student.”
As grade 6 teachers set high expectations for their students, they do so the Saint Andrew’s way - a way that both challenges and nurtures. “We hope that thoughtful and caring instruction helps students achieve greater independence in grade 7 and 8, so that by the time they reach the Upper School, they have the ability to stay organized, manage their time, communicate effectively with teachers, and be their own advocates,” said Kimberly Fisher, grade 6 English teacher.
Mistakes Make Growth Possible
Grade 6 teachers provide a safe place where students feel accepted, and they do so deliberately. “We feel that mistakes and small failures make growth possible,” said Nathalie Young.
This intentional effort to cushion the impact of small moments of struggle is a large part of what distinguished Saint Andrew’s Middle School as unique. “We say at Saint Andrew’s School that we are all about teaching the ‘whole child’ and nurturing each child in mind, body, and spirit. Well, I say that the truest expression of ‘mind, body, and spirit’ in grade 6 is the way we support our students,” added Mrs. Michelle Martin, grade 6 World Cultures teacher. “Especially in moments of struggle.”
Tori-Lynn Saraniti, parent of grade 8 student Linda Saraniti, couldn’t agree more. “Grade 6 teachers always met Linda where she was academically, socially, and emotionally and they took all of her strengths and needs into account when helping her get to the next level. They brought out the very best version of her that year and I think this is because they really knew her and cared about her. They saw what she was capable of and they inspired her to believe in herself.”
All of the talents, skills, joys, and growth that are possible for students in grade 6 come with their fair share of challenges, pitfalls, mistakes, and even failures. This important dichotomy distinguishes the Saint Andrew’s grade 6 program. Both rain and sun are needed to make true colors appear.
In a flurry of challenges and triumphs, grade 6 Scots achieve academic excellence, making their boldest colors visible. The premiere math and language arts programs, Singapore Math and Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, help grade 6 Scots soar to new heights.
Middle School students also attain high achievement through participation in the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP), an academic framework that encourages students to embrace and understand the connections between traditional subjects and the real world and to become analytical and reflective thinkers.
As a result of strong instruction and programming, many Middle School students rise to the top. For example, select grade 6 students have qualified for the Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) based on test scores from the previous spring. Duke TIP is a nonprofit organization that identifies academically talented students starting in grade 4. Each year, Duke TIP accepts nearly one hundred thousand students from all across the country into its talent pool.
Thirty-four grade 6 students who came from the Lower School qualified for Duke TIP in 2018 (see photo). Scots who met the Duke Tip qualification have impressive scores in categories like Quantitative Reasoning, Math, Reading Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning, and more. Qualifying grade 6 Scots scored 95% or above on at least one ERB-CTP subtest placing them in the top 5% of their peers nationwide.
Grade 6 Duke TIP qualifiers aren’t the only ones in the Middle School to achieve this high distinction. New grade 6 Scots, as well as grade 7 students, will soon be notified and recognized for their distinguished accomplishments as qualifiers.
Losing a Fear of Being Wrong Enables Creativity
Grade 6 Scots flourish not because they are pressured to or are motivated by grades and scores, but because they learn to self-motivate in a positive school culture. During the grade 6 year, when Scots lose a fear of failure, something beautiful grows in its place. The opportunity for creativity.
Once grade 6 students realize that their teachers want them to experiment, take risks, make mistakes, and have fun - then they show they are ready for endless days in the pursuit of creativity.
A major component of this pursuit of creativity is the cultivation of choice that grade 6 teachers facilitate. “Students are given many options on how to express their learning - from iMovies to using Adobe Spark projects to creating infographics - they have so many creative choices to make,” said Kelley Briceno, Middle School Design teacher.
Another demonstration of creativity is evident in the myriad decisions students make about what to learn. “In Science class, students were asked to construct parts of a Mars colony, but were given the freedom to choose what aspect they want to build and research,” commented Jack Herr.
Freedom leads to risk-taking, mistakes lead to growth, and choice leads to creativity. Ultimately all of this creates an amazing amount of personal ownership grade 6 Scots have in their learning.
For Scots, It’s All About Balance
In grade 6, the balance is cultivated first with forging strong personal connections with peers and teachers. But the Middle School’s commitment to a balanced approach to curriculum is further evidenced in the broad exposure grade 6 students get to arts programming in the school day. Arts are not just an add-on in grade 6 as they might be in other schools; rather, Saint Andrew's has a strong commitment to a robust arts curriculum and it is a central part of the Middle School educational philosophy.
“Grade 6 students take two art classes - visual arts and performing arts. This is different from other Middle and High Schools that might have programs, which narrow students toward only one option,” said Ann Haynes, Head of the Middle School. “But because we have such a strong belief in the powers of discovery through creative endeavors, we maintain this commitment to a vital arts offering for Middle School students,” she added.
The balancing act continues as students manage the physical changes going on as they mature into adulthood. The way grade 6 teachers see it, age eleven and twelve are the final years of childhood, and they want students to feel like they can be kids at school, not teenagers.
“In a world that invites students into the realm of adulthood early with Netflix, Instagram, and Snapchat as models, SA creates a school culture that invites grade 6 students to hold onto their youthful side through a commitment to play and fun in the school day,” said Nathalie Young, Grade 6 Team Leader.
The culture of play is alive at Saint Andrew’s Middle School. “Other schools might have done away with recess in Middle School, but I did a good amount of research on this topic and found that experts say that students still need to have fun and play during the school day,” said Ann Haynes, Head of the Middle School.
Those parents who want their children to hold on to their youthful outlook can agree that SA has the right balance of play, academics, and exposure to the arts. “When my child came home with dirty knees, messy hair, and eyes sparkling during grade 6, I was happy, because my child was happy,” mused Mrs. Saraniti.
How Can One Year - the First Year of Middle School - Matter So Much?
If the concepts of developing independence, losing the fear of being wrong, nurturing creativity, facilitating highest academic achievement, and promoting balance don’t say it enough - just ask Tori-Lynn and she’ll tell you: “When I think about Middle School, I count the rainbows, not the clouds…”
And it’s at Saint Andrew’s Middle School - starting in the special year of grade 6 - when Scots brightest colors become visible. And those true colors speak louder than any words.