Each child's development is uniquely his or hers; no two children are on the same developmental timetable. Changes in attachment, autonomy, sexuality, intimacy, achievement and identity occur at this stage, and make it challenging for children as they attempt to navigate the twists and turns of this often turbulent period in their lives. Forgetfulness, irritability, power plays and the emerging influence of the peer group are other, common phenomena that challenge the most patient adults. These changes, however, also represent significant potential in young people as well as opportunities for them as they take the turn toward adulthood.
Scarsdale Middle School is unique, and has been for many years, because its structure most closely reflects what research says is essential for middle schools to be safe, efficacious and responsive places in which early adolescents can grow and thrive.
While today many middle schools have teams of teachers, most still do not have “houses,” “neighborhoods,” or similarly named smaller communities of students within the school. Scarsdale Middle School has five such smaller communities—Butler House, Cooper House, Fountain House, Popham House and CHOICE, a grades 7-8 alternative program. Students are equally divided among the four Houses, each of which is smaller in size than the elementary schools that our students previously attended.
A student's House is his or her “home away from home,” a base for all three years, from which their day begins and in which a student spends approximately half of his or her day. Students take their four core academic subjects—English, math, social studies and science -- in the House. They have a homeroom period to start the day in the House and also eat lunch in the House, a unique feature among middle schools nationally.
The House Counselors understand that each year of middle school is unique, and that the changes from sixth to seventh to eighth grade are profound and must guide the nature of adult interactions with students. Counselors meet with students on an ongoing basis, individually, in small groups, and in formal classes or small assemblies in the House. Relevant topics such as cheating, academic responsibility, bullying, and organizational and study skills are discussed.
The Youth Services Project, jointly funded by the Board of Education and the Village of Scarsdale, also provides crucial assistance to students. Currently three Youth Counselors serve the Middle School. Youth Counselors meet individually with students and also in groups centered on specific themes such as friendship, divorce, family illness or behavioral management.
The Middle School is also fortunate to have two school psychologists on staff who meet individually or in groups with students and parents, and also conduct testing for students under consideration for classification as special needs students. In addition, there are two full-time nurses on staff to address the many health-related issues that come up during this period of development, from the minor scrape to managing more serious conditions.
The curriculum includes mathematics, science, Humanities, and CHOICE Studies while students integrate with the main building for foreign language, quarterly and PE/music. Mathematics students follow the seventh grade advanced mathematics curriculum that prepares them for the high school level math class in 8thgrade. Science classes emphasize hands-on laboratory learning and science applications. The Humanities program combines the teaching of English and social studies and focuses on historical turning points.
The CHOICE Studies period allows students to explore individual interests, typically through interdisciplinary study of major social, political, scientific and economic issues of our times. Students will write a research paper and create a documentary about a current global issue. During these processes students are asked to think critically, weigh alternatives and make difficult decisions after considering competing viewpoints. This culminates with the CHOICE Film Festival in April and some of the documentaries will be included in Human Rights Day presentations.
In 2009, The CHOICE Studies program began a partnership with Yale University's Programs in International Educational Resources (PIER) where students learn to view themselves as global citizens of our very complicated world. With visits to Yale's campus in New Haven, Connecticut as well as sessions at CHOICE, students experience other cultures and customs, learn about the history of various world regions and listen to the stories of people from countries like Iraq, Ghana and China.
Here are some essential differences in structure and expectations between elementary and middle school that students will experience:
- There is homework, usually every night
- There are formal quizzes, tests and grades
- They will have a different teacher for each subject, each year
- Beginning in grade seven, they will take final exams
- They will have a schedule which they must learn to follow
- They will have a locker, which will require them to organize their day
Parents experience these differences as well. For example, your child will be much less enthusiastic about your coming to school. If they pass you in the hall they might very well pretend they don't know you.
They will seemingly become less communicative about school, usually greeting the daily question, “What did you do in school today?” with a resounding, “Nothing!” However, they will think you are invisible as you drive them to soccer practice because they will talk non-stop to their car mates about everything under the sun. Listening quietly at such times will probably tell you much more than direct questioning!
- First, get ready for changes! Change is the one constant in adolescence. Accept these changes and behaviors as inevitable and necessary but not forever.
- Be willing to listen, but don't pry. Listen carefully but avoid lecturing.
- Don't give in to manipulation, but don't use power unless it's urgent.
- When reprimanding, deal only with the presenting problem; don't bring up other or past issues.
- Don't let your middle schooler's moods dictate your moods—keep your sense of equilibrium.
- Understand that middle school often means turbulent times for friendships. All friendships have ups and downs, even with “best friends.”
- If your child is in the midst of a longstanding friendship that is breaking apart, the best you can do is stand by and be a good listener. As difficult as it is to see our child hurting, taking sides or intervening is not appropriate nor will it help.
- Understand that a part of dealing with their anxiety about themselves and whether or not they “belong,” is the adolescent's need to take risks, like jumping off the garage roof or being aggressive in sports. As parents you need to be their safe haven, assuring them that you are there for them
- Realize that there are some enjoyable moments during this time—actual conversations may occur, for example. You will be impressed with your child's ability to handle more complex social interactions. Their ability to think and create and connect ideas will become more and more apparent. In short, you will see them begin to mature and that will delight you!
Parents can assist the school by letting us know about family situations or personal issues that could impact a child's functioning at school. All such communications are kept strictly confidential. Likewise, the school assumes responsibility for communicating with parents in a timely fashion so that parents know how their child is handling his or her academic workload, as well, informing parents about other issues that inevitably arise during the middle school years.
Scarsdale Middle School continues to assess its home-school communications and develops new methods of keeping parents “in the loop.” The primary means of communicating with parents is electronic, with email blasts sent to all parents or sub groups of parents when needed. Parents also have access to information about their child through the parent portal of Infinite Campus, the district's database and information system. After establishing a log-in, parents can check the parent portal to read their child's mid-period progress report, check his or her schedule and attendance and review the quarterly report card. Each teacher has a website through the Middle School page on the district website that is accessible to parents. Teachers use the site to let parents and students know what assignments and activities are occurring in their class or on a team. We are committed to helping parents stay on top of their child's education and development.
One of the great rewards of teaching early adolescents is that they sincerely believe they can make a difference in the world, while the greatest challenge may be their proclivity to narcissism. For both reasons, the school emphasizes activities that pull students out of themselves and their world into the world of service. This approach is consistent with the district's motto, Non Sibi—“not for one's self alone.”
Scarsdale Middle School makes a conscious and concerted effort to fulfill the district motto of Non Sibi. We express that motto in our oft-repeated phrase, “From Me to We.” Our annual Human Rights Day teaches students to “Think Globally; Act Locally” about a wide range of world, national and local issues. Our Student Organization places a strong emphasis on service to the school and community. They have participated in activities ranging from Habitat for Humanity to fundraising for a number of charitable causes. Each year, for example, they contribute almost 5,000 pounds of canned goods to the Westchester Food Patch. Some of our sixth students participate in an intergenerational project where students interview elderly citizens about the various phases and events of their lives and will produce podcasts of these interviews, along with other activities.
The school community is also noted for its “green school” initiative that has spread awareness of the urgency for sustaining our environment, locally and globally. A number of environmental activities, including a school garden, are part of this initiative. Our approach here, as with all activities, is to help students “learn it by living it.” At this level, it is essential that adults do the work alongside students, not do it for them. Adults must serve as role models of work and service that lead to productive and fulfilling lives.
In these ways and more, Scarsdale Middle School takes students beyond the world of academics and begins to prepare them in attitude and in action to be the responsible leaders and citizens of the future world community.
The Middle School provides the bridge between elementary and high school teaching approaches. Middle School students are at an age where they are ready to study with teachers who have expertise in a particular subject matter, but still need the intimacy and comfort level provided by the environment of a self-contained elementary classroom. This is where the staff “teaming” structure fits in.
Each of the three grade levels in the Middle School is divided among the four Houses, for a cohort of approximately 95-100 per House per grade level. Each of these cohorts has its own team of four core curriculum teachers, in English, math, science and social studies.
These four teachers work together through the course of the year, keeping track of the progress of each child in the cohort, both academically and developmentally. With a full year and a limited number of students, the teachers get to know the individual students very well, creating a support system akin to that of an elementary classroom, while allowing for more in-depth teaching of the core subjects.
The class schedule is set up to support this core curriculum approach. The teachers have common teaching and planning times, enabling them to meet as a team with the House Counselor, House special education teachers, the school psychologist and other colleagues as needed. Common teaching time also gives the teachers flexibility to accommodate special projects by combining classes or by “swapping” time blocks to create longer sessions.
The core teaching team coordinates assignments so that work is evenly distributed, and organizes special activities, community service projects, field trips and interdisciplinary programs for the entire student cohort. In addition to the double period option, the flexibility built into the class schedule also allows for re-organizing the entire cohort into groups based on interest or ability for special projects, or for bringing the whole team together for a special topic, and then breaking into homeroom groups for further discussion of the topic.
The core teachers are also available to meet as a group with parents, if needed, to discuss a child's progress. This can be arranged through the House Counselor. Throughout students' Middle School years, the House Counselor provides continuity, following each student's transitions between grades and teaching teams.
Parents familiar with the elementary model of transitions between grades sometimes ask if a child's personality is taken into account in “matching” the student to a particular cohort. The answer highlights the transitional approach of Middle School: the core curriculum teams are chosen to be balanced in their approach and style, enabling students to learn how to work with a variety of adults.
For another example, there are skills that may be learned to help students organize themselves to get their homework done. There are also a set of habits to learn, such as recognizing when help is needed, and being open to asking for help from an appropriate source.
Homeroom time is a comfortable setting in which the teachers encourage and support these efforts. The homeroom sessions are scheduled concurrently, overseen by each of the four core teachers. A student in the social studies teacher homeroom who is struggling with math homework will be encouraged to go across the hall to the math teacher's homeroom and ask for help. Teachers are also available after school and at other times, and welcome students' requests for assistance.
The Middle School faculty understands the importance of seeing the whole child -- the developmental as well as the academic picture -- and of building one-on-one relationships, to help students navigate the rocky shoals of adolescence while attending to their studies. Acquiring perseverance is an example of the interplay of academic and developmental progress. The first time a student encounters a challenging academic task and is initially discouraged, the Middle School teacher knows that there are two learning opportunities at hand – both the academic piece, and the satisfaction of learning to stick to the task itself.
At the conclusion of three nurturing, intellectually rich years of study, Middle School graduates emerge prepared and confident for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in high school.