Life in the Middle School

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The Middle School at Sidwell Friends is unusual in that we encompass both an Upper Elementary program for grades 5 and 6 and a more traditional middle school program for grades 7 and 8. Throughout these four years we offer a rich and challenging curriculum within an atmosphere of trust, cooperation, and respect framed by the principles of the Religious Society of Friends.

The academic program of the Middle School encourages our capable and motivated students to stretch themselves in new directions as they practice and strengthen basic skills. The program is rigorous, but we also offer support to help students meet our academic expectations, realizing that students at this age mature in different ways. Our teachers are experienced and dedicated, and they understand their crucial role in helping early adolescents take their first steps toward adulthood. Our strong advisory program offers a chance for students to try out their ideas in a safe and supportive environment and to form positive relationships with caring adults and with each other. Service to others is a key component of our school as is a continuing commitment to environmental responsibility.

Our students love to come to school each day, to a place where they are comfortable but challenged to grow. They learn about themselves, each other, and the world around them as they move toward responsible citizenship in the world of the 21st century.

Quaker Life and Community Service

Meeting for Worship is held once a week in groups of varying sizes.  Each day begins with a period of silence as well.  A study of Quaker history and practice is part of the Middle School advisory program and the seventh grade Quakerism and the Arts curriculum, but the School’s commitment to Quaker values is also seen in frequent discussions of issues of equality, peace, and social justice in our classrooms, and in the community expectations that are communicated each day to our students.

Community service is an important part of the Middle School program and also reflects the School’s commitment to Quaker values.  Students in fifth and sixth grades participate in two community service projects through their homerooms each year, and seventh and eighth graders use four days in advisory service activities.  Students may visit one of a number of organizations with which we have partnerships, including Martha’s Table, the Capital Area Food Bank, Mary Center, SOME, Red Wiggler Organic Farm, and Food and Friends.

Middle School students also participate in school-wide service activities throughout the year.  These include seasonal events such as Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, a Holiday Gift Drive, and a major food drive in the winter.  In addition, the Parents Association organizes family service opportunities on weekends.

Many service opportunities are also part of the Minimester program, and students are required to select at least one service Minimester over the course of their Middle School career.

Advisory

The purpose of the advisory curriculum is to foster awareness of self, others, and the world and to promote in students a personal “code of ethics.” It does this by examining a wide variety of topics that reach beyond the traditional academic curriculum and deeply affect all of our lives in and outside of school.  The topics explored in advisory lessons include stress and time management, the meaning of friendship, diversity topics,  adolescent sexuality, and self-esteem and body issues. 

The advisory curriculum is taught during advisory periods once a week by either the student’s advisor or homeroom teacher or the Middle School Counselor.  The lessons are interactive and designed to encourage student participation.  The curriculum is age appropriate in language and activities.  Many topics are examined in increasing breadth and depth as the students mature and move through the curriculum. 

In the 5th and 6th grades, the teachers determine a monthly theme, such as “getting to know you,” “personal values,” or “unity,” and the advisory lessons for that month are related to that theme.  In the 7th and 8th grades, teams follow a schedule determined in the fall that lays out the sequence of lessons for the year.  There is a built-in flexibility to the curriculum at all levels that allows situations that arise globally, locally, or in the classroom to be addressed.  

The word “Friends” in Sidwell Friends School refers to the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as the Quakers, and an integral part of the advisory curriculum is to develop a stronger understanding of Quaker history and values.

Minimester

Minimester is a program for all Middle School students that occurs over the four days before spring vacation in March.  There are no classes during the week of Minimester; instead students and teachers engage in a concentrated exploration of one area of interest outside of the classroom and sometimes outside of the city.  Offerings for the week vary each year, depending on proposals generated by teachers.

The Minimester program  is consistent with the Middle School's philosophy in several ways.  First of all, the Minimester program provides an opportunity for experiential learning.  Some students who are not necessarily successful in traditional classroom settings are better able to learn when actively involved in one focused activity set outside of the classroom.  

Second, Minimester activities strengthen our relationships within the school and larger communities.  They enable students and teachers who would normally not work together to relate in a meaningful way and provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with professionals outside of School.  They can also bring us closer to the social service sector and those less fortunate than ourselves.

Finally, the idea of Minimester is consistent with the needs of middle school students.  It provides a break in the routine of the school year and gives students an opportunity to explore an area of particular interest to them that they might never get exposure to otherwise.

Minimesters fall into three broad categories:

Local programs – take place on campus or in DC.  Many involve service, and students are required to choose a service program once during their MS career.  Approximately 50-60% of our students are involved in these projects each year.

Apprenticeships – these are opportunities for students to work one-on-one with professionals in the community.  They can shadow teachers, doctors, veterinarians, bakers, dress designers, artists, journalist – anything that they can develop.  Between 20-25% of our students do apprenticeships each year.

Trips – most trips are for our 8th graders.  Trip offerings vary each year and often extend a few days into spring vacation.  Trips carry an additional cost, but financial assistance is available to help defray the cost of these programs.  About 25% of our students travel each year.

Minimester offers wonderful opportunities for students to engage in something completely different and is an integral part of the Middle School program.

Assemblies

The entire Middle School gathers each Friday afternoon for an assembly.  Programs may feature performers from outside the School or student programs.  We welcome suggestions for assembly programs!

Clubs and After-School Activities

All students in fifth and sixth grade are members of the chorus and rehearse during vocal music classes. Seventh and eighth graders who are interested in singing may join one of several choral ensembles. These share rehearsal time both during the school day and immediately before and after school.

Middle School students may audition to join the orchestra and other instrumental ensembles. Most rehearsals occur during the school day, with occasional before- or after-school practices.

Seventh and eighth graders may audition for the two drama productions each year, and eighth graders may join Vertical Voices, the Playback Theater troupe. Rehearsals for the productions takes place after school; Vertical Voices generally rehearses during the school day.

Additional information about these activities may be found in the website section on Visual and Performing Arts.

The Middle School Diversity Club, known as the “A-to-Z SU” meets during the school day for both 5/6 and 7/8 students.

After-school clubs include the 5/6 Math Club, the Mathcounts team, the Debate Club, the Spanish Heritage Speakers Club, Art Club and Creative Writing Club.

Eighth graders have several opportunities for leadership positions. Some serve as Admissions Ambassadors to help us welcome applicants to the school. Others introduce our weekly assemblies.

Finally, some activities are offered through our SPARC program. See the SPARC tab for additional information.

Role of Parents

Communication with parents takes many forms.  School events are publicized on the school Web site and through the weekly electronic Tuesday Letter; other publications include the Directory and the Handbook for Parents and Students.  During the year, parents gather for programs, which present a speaker on a topic of common concern.  Room parents help with special projects and are an important communication link, and the Parents’ Association is very active in the life of the school.

Parents are provided with information about their son or daughter’s academic progress through trimester reports that utilize checklists and narrative comments to describe the student’s progress through the curriculum.  Interims are another form of communication from teachers to report on student progress at any point during the year.  Parents can expect a conference with the homeroom teacher or advisor in the fall, and parents are encouraged to request a meeting at any time if there is a concern.

Parent volunteers staff the reception desk in the Middle School, support extracurricular activities, and sometimes accompany students on service trips or other outings.

As students grow through these Middle School years, parents also must grow and change in their approach to their children.  The principal and counselor offer a program for parents at each grade level each fall outlining what to expect over the course of the year, and Parent Peer Group meetings and morning meetings offer frequent opportunities for discussion of parenting skills.

Student Support System

Several different kinds of support are offered to Middle School students.  There is a nurse on duty on campus at all times.  The Middle School Counselor is also available to provide emotional support to students and families.  There is an Academic Support Coordinator in the Middle School who is available to assist students who are having academic difficulty.  Educational testing is available on-site during the school day if needed, and the school works with tutors who can provide on-going services to families as necessary.  Parents are encouraged to express concerns in any of these areas to the advisor or homeroom teacher or to the Student Concerns Committee, which consists of the principal, assistant principal, counselor, academic support coordinator, nurse, athletic trainer, and diversity coordinator.  Finally, the Middle School has its own IT Help Desk to take care of any issues with the laptop computers.

Support for New Students

The process of welcoming new students and families to the Middle School begins quickly after admissions decisions have been made in the spring as the Parents Association Welcoming Committee begins to organize social events to help new and returning students get to know one another.  These social events continue throughout the summer.

The Jumpstart program takes place during one week in August and provides an extended orientation for students entering 6th and 7th grades.  The program introduces key skills in many areas of the curriculum, gives students a chance to review their required summer reading, provides a sense of the study skills that will help students be successful in the Middle School, and allows new students to get to know one another so that they have formed friendships when school begins.  Newly accepted students will receive information about Jumpstart in their enrollment packets and are strongly encouraged to attend if their schedule allows.

Once school begins, students quickly become part of the fabric of the Middle School.  Members of the support team seek new students out for lunch to check on how the transition is going and to initiate support if there are any difficulties.  Our emphasis on an inclusive community helps insure that new students find friendships, and we hope that students soon feel at home!