Steps to a successful Middle School experience

Recently, the Washington Post featured an article Seven ways parents and educators can improve kids’ middle school experience. This article does a great job describing both actions we as parents can take and highlighting steps schools have successfully taken to improve the middle school experience.

As I read the article, it felt as if they were describing The Sycamore School and our core tenants. At The Sycamore School, we integrate academic development, social-emotional growth, and civic engagement. The result is a school environment that is designed to provide the best middle and high school experience for our students. 

Here are examples of how our school is designed for a positive and rewarding school experience.

Trust them with responsibility – Instead of offering whole class instruction, our students work at their own pace and use teachers and classmates as resources and guides to help them problem solve and work through challenging tasks. At TSS, we look for opportunities to flip the script and put students in charge of their learning. From planning field trips to suggesting new electives and after school clubs, our students have a real voice in the school.

Help them with self-identity – At TSS, we teach social-emotional skills alongside academic skills. Students engage in activities that foster self-awareness and self-discovery. We offer an inclusive, nurturing environment, where students can safely explore who they are. We also have a school counselor who regularly meets with students to support them as they transition from a tween to a teen.

Give them ways to serve – One of our three roots is Civic Engagement. We start with community building and work up to regularly volunteering in the community. Recent community partners include Culpepper Gardens, AFAC, and Doorways. Community activities range from leading art activities with senior citizens to stream clean-ups and food assistance activities. Our High School students culminate the year with a capstone project where they identify a need in the community and develop a project to address that need.

Foster relationships with adults – We focus on relationship building. This is at the heart of our program. Teachers develop a rapport with students, speak to them like people – not kids, and foster positive and personalized relationships. We are deliberate in fostering a strong relationship between students and their academic advisor so they can be used as a resource for both school and social issues.

Help them relate to peers – We address social dynamics in real-time, helping students learn how to appropriately interact with peers, give feedback in a way that can be heard, and accept feedback. We also regularly have conflict resolution meetings, where students can work through a problem with adult supervision and assistance.

Build opportunities for play – It is puzzling that as a culture, we think that transitioning from a child to an adult means we no longer enjoy or benefit from play. At TSS, we look for ways to make learning playful and fun. We incorporate our students’ interests into academic tasks, ask them to teach their peers games that they love, and build in time for students to play cards, board games, or go outside.

Make it safe to fail – Making mistakes is how we learn. We encourage students to challenge themselves and try difficult tasks, knowing they might struggle or even fail. It’s normal and expected to have to do something more than once before you are adept at a task. Every Thursday, our daily community meetings focus on Thursday fails, where students and staff share an example of how they failed that week and what they learned from the experience.

Part of what allows us to create such a positive learning environment is the way the school is designed. We offer :

  • Small classes in a safe, nurturing, and inclusive community
  • Self-paced competency-based learning 
  • Engaging “hands-on” and cooperative learning opportunities
  • Curricula that incorporates student interests and connects to life outside school
  • Student choices of how they engage with the curriculum and display mastery
  • Tools to increase self-awareness, self-monitoring, and mindfulness
  • Real-world learning experiences

TSS offers middle and high school students the environment and tools they need to have a more positive and productive middle school and high school experience. We provide a dynamic, nurturing and personalized learning environment that inspires a passion for learning, self-discovery, and connection to the community. 

Click here to learn more about TSS at an upcoming school information session.