The Friday before Spring Break, I had “outside” lunch duty. While it was a bit blustery, the majority of Middle School students were in the courtyard enjoying the sun and blue sky. Walking around, I noticed a large group of students playing kickball on two multi-grade teams and a group of grade 8 students enjoying lunch on Arbuthnot porch. I spoke with some grade 5 and 6 students eating lunch near the porch swing, asking how the transition to Middle School had been.
The responses included, “We love the independence and eating lunch outside,” “the grade 5 advisors,” “studying Rome.” After Mr. Cummings stopped on his way to class to serenade us with his cello, everyone agreed that “We love performing arts!”
Over the years, I’ve had families ask why grade 5 is included in our Middle School program. I love this question––the excitement and enthusiasm of this age are contagious, and we have created a developmentally appropriate Middle School program that benefits grade 5 girls physically, socially, and academically. Our developmental sports programs provide them with the opportunity to learn and practice a variety of team sports and experience gameplay with other schools. Our social and leadership activities such as House Games, Middle School Student Council, and class offices are opportunities for the youngest students in our Middle School to meet and interact with peers across grade levels. Middle School faculty are organized into grade level teams in which they plan collaboratively. Our Middle School advisory program creates a community based upon personal integrity, respect, and consideration of others, and the student-advisor relationship develops through daily study halls and informal meetings. Our grade 5 advisors help students navigate receiving letter grades and increasing independence, support time management and organization, and encourage self-advocacy in both academic and social-emotional arenas.
As the capacity to think abstractly begins to develop in most students at this time, our curricula are focused on providing a breadth of foundational knowledge with opportunities to delve into content more deeply in interdisciplinary projects. An essential component of our academic approach in grade 5 is the study skills program, when we teach and model “learning how to learn” for students.
The key to a successful grade 5 Middle School program is the transition. At Ellis, we consider transition to be a process rather than one event. As they move through grade 4, both students and parents have the opportunity to spend time in the Middle School, visit classes, and meet members of our community. Students are encouraged to attend our Study Skills Boot Camps in August.
Grade 5 is truly a transition year. Students have the opportunity to see their teacher explaining and modeling how to organize binders, Squibbs, and lockers and how to prioritize assignments as they interact with more than one or two teachers. Time management and test-taking skills are emphasized in each content area. Grade 5 students experience responsibility and freedom with the guidance of how to deal with it. By the third term, they are ready to take on the responsibility of bringing all of their materials to class consistently and confidently tackling the grade 5 history research project.
The snapshot of lunch I shared showcases our reasoning for including grade 5 students in our Middle School community: an understanding of the importance of the social-emotional life of adolescents, our trust in them in terms of exercising their growing independence, our faculty advisory team approach, and our academic programming targeting the needs of this age group of girls.