Academic Knowledge & Passion: A Foundation for Success

Last week I chatted with a grade 8 student working in the Middle School lounge as she was exploring some possibilities for her history research paper. She mentioned several topics she was considering, but noted that she knew she had found her #1 topic choice because “I feel like I’m reading a novel I can’t put down when I research this topic!” This anecdote illustrates the critical importance of a strong curriculum that emphasizes academic knowledge and skills and integrates rich opportunities for exploring individual interests and emerging passions.
In the Middle School, we intentionally provide students with an appropriate breadth of required core classes that help them acquire foundational knowledge and develop skills in each content area. There are places for studying history chronologically, learning integer operations in math, conjugating verbs in language classes, and developing drawing and painting techniques in art classes. Experiential, collaborative learning requires this background knowledge and encourages students to make connections among disciplines, develop perspective, and work collaboratively. Examples of this learning taking place in our class projects include students writing and producing their grade 5 class play, acting as Supreme Court justices to determine the constitutionality of a first amendment case, and writing a personal memoir after reading excerpts from Farewell to Manzanar.

Electives and clubs provide students and faculty with additional space and time to dive deeply into fields of interest and passion and allow students independent choice in learning. We read some works of Shakespeare throughout the Middle School English curriculum, but taking the Acting Shakespeare elective allows students to look at the plays from the vantage point of an actor and creates a different understanding of the language structure of sonnets and soliloquies. Students interested in issues of social justice and current events draw upon their experiences in American and 20th Century History classes to blog and Skype with students in Pakistan, India, and Jordan about women’s rights issues in our Global Citizenship elective. Enthusiastic readers and writers immerse themselves in our Creative Writing: Novel elective, where they have the freedom to pen the next great American novel. Middle School mathematicians tussle with creative equations in our MATHCOUNTS club.

We want to grow girls who know “how to learn,” who are enthusiastic and curious, and who have curricular choices in content, electives, and clubs that inspire them to pursue areas of interest throughout their Middle School years.