Middle School

Michelle Rust, Head of the Middle School
The Ellis Middle School offers girls in grades 5 to 8 a warm, supportive, and joyful community in which to grow academically, creatively, socially, and physically. Our all-girls environment provides every student with opportunities to develop her passion for learning and participate fully in every aspect of Middle School life.

The high faculty-to-student ratio allows teachers to get to know every girl well. Our teachers guide the education of each student, offering individualized acceleration and support so that every girl reaches her full potential. Our strong academic tradition combined with innovative practice equips every girl with the confidence and competence to question, to collaborate, to take risks. Our 1:1 device program teaches students to conduct research while learning to manage information technology in a responsible manner. Girls are not just taught to measure and memorize; through project-based learning, they learn to collaborate in teams, critically analyze information, and structure an argument.

Through our electives, we offer choices and scaffold those offerings so that girls learn time management and prioritization skills. Each student is encouraged to develop her leadership abilities in class, in clubs, in the arts, and on the field. In our advisory program, we provide guidance in managing friendships, making healthy choices, and developing self-advocacy skills. The integration of service learning, interdisciplinary projects, and class trips into the curriculum at each grade level teaches our students a sense of social responsibility and exposes them to different perspectives. Our culture fosters respect and inclusion, and we teach our girls to model integrity and honesty.

Laughter resounds in our classrooms and hallways. Learning is active and engaging and classroom discussions are lively and creative. We are committed to encouraging each and every Middle School girl to find her own strong voice and to grow in independence and resiliency.

Integrated Studies Projects

List of 4 items.

  • Ellis Earthkeeping Experience

    The Ellis Earthkeeping Experience (E3) is a true Ellis tradition for grade 5, and has been recognized by Three Rivers Environmental Council as a finalist for its outstanding programs award. In E3, students develop an awareness of their importance to the environment. They explore the basic tenet of environmental sustainability: becoming more green and less wasteful. Each student recognizes her potential to better care for the environment through a personal commitment.
  • Feeding Ourselves and Others

    Each November, the seventh graders spend two days on Project Seventh Grade, "Feeding Ourselves and Others." During this time, the students learn about food insecurity in western Pennsylvania by visiting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and packing food. The seventh graders keep a log of what they ate the week before this project, so they can analyze their own nutrition. As a class, we consider economic and environmental factors related to the food industry. Finally, the students propose project ideas to maintain our relationship with the Food Bank and our community.
  • Medieval Faire

    To give the girls a taste of life during the middle ages, the Ellis sixth grade presents a two-day Medieval Faire. The girls play human lawn chess; build and launch catapults; partake in a jousting competition; and hold an authentic Medieval feast complete with costumes, entertainment, and peasants who only get to eat if the nobility leave them leftovers. We do this because, in sixth grade, Ellis girls study world history and civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. We end our year with the study of Medieval Europe.
    In history class, the girls study the feudal system. The class discusses the lives of nobles and peasants and learns about the roles that people played in society. Before the Faire, girls pick parts from a deck of cards. Twelve of the girls are members of the nobility and clergy, while the rest are peasants. Just as a person’s role in Medieval society was determined by their birth and family (something over which people had no control), the students’ roles in the feast are determined by picking a card out of a deck.

    At the Medieval feast, the peasants serve the nobility and perform for the lord’s entertainment. Peasants eat only what is left and only after the nobles conclude their feast. Food is prepared and served simply, just as it was in the Middle Ages. Girls make costumes and play roles during the feast, trying to make the experience as authentic as possible. They eat with their hands, and one of the girls plays a monk who has taken a vow of silence and cannot speak. Medieval storytellers perform, as do musicians, during the course of the feast.

    Games of human chess were often played during the Middle Ages. During the Faire, the girls learn how the game of chess relates to the feudal system they studied in history. The girls learn what the game and its pieces represent. They then play computer chess. Right after the feast, the lord of the manor and the bishop battle one another in a game of human chess, using the members of court and peasants as chess pieces.

    In history class, the girls learn about the role of knights in Medieval Europe and how jousts were held to prepare knights and keep them in shape for battle, practice their skills, and entertain nobles and peasants. During the Medieval Faire, the girls see a video clip of a joust in action and then have their own competition. In this joust of skill (not physical contact) the girls substitute bicycles for horses. They ride toward hanging rings and try to put their lances through the rings. The lord of the manor presents a prize to the winner.

    After three weeks of engineering and physics lessons in science class, the girls are introduced to the idea of medieval siege engines, more commonly known as catapults. Partners are assigned, and each group is given a set of supplies. The girls are taught how to safely use hand tools, and are then given the remaining days of class time to design, construct, and test a catapult. The girls learn a tremendous amount of mechanical reasoning and engineering skills by constructing their catapults and then firing at a cardboard model of a castle. The castle is moved back by one-meter increments during the competition, so the girls not only need to design/build a functional catapult, they must calibrate it as well. They have to solve problems as they occur, with the materials on hand, while working with other students.

    In English class, the girls are writing fairy tales and also reading the book Catherine Called Birdy, about a young girl growing up in Medieval Europe. In art class, the girls create illuminated manuscripts, and they also create book covers for the fairy tales they write in English class. If time permits, they also create gargoyles, which originated in the churches of Medieval Europe. There’s even a trip to Calvary church to experience the architecture.
  • Reflections on Global Issues

    As the culminating project of their Middle School experience, the 8’s participate in Reflections on Global Issues. This interdisciplinary project involves two weeks of experiential learning activities, and addresses research, writing, and leadership skills taught throughout all four years of the Middle School.  It reflects The Ellis School’s commitment to creating young women who are lifelong learners and independent thinkers. This summative experience provides students with an opportunity to bring together knowledge and skills acquired throughout their years in Middle School in a real world scenario. Additionally, it connects technology, Service Learning, and the curriculum with current events.
    Twenty-first century skills are emphasized throughout the project; students utilize research and analytical skills to define global issues, hone leadership and communication skills, and build upon independent work as they take the initiative in planning and presenting findings in both oral and written forms. The Capstone Project offers students the opportunities to work independently in an intensive, long-term project. Participation in this project enables the 8’s to make a stronger impact on the world around them. The students will become agents of change as they prepare for the Upper School and beyond.