Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Middle School Bridge

It would be an understatement to say that I'm excited for the school year to start. I spent most of June and August looking back on last year and preparing for this year, and, quite honestly, its just not the same without the energy of our students and teachers. It wasn't even a few days after graduation that I found myself missing the cacophony at the 6th grade lockers, the "hustle and bustle" of lunch, and pretty much everything else about the school year. As I prepared over the summer for the year ahead, I did a lot of reading about the important role of middle schools, as well as the things that great middle schools do to prepare students for the future.

A theme that I noticed over and over was the role of middle school as the bridge between lower school and upper school and the essential nature of this connection. I've always been impacted by the majestic beauty of bridges. Here are some examples:

-Growing up, crossing the Walt Whitman or Ben Franklin bridges into New Jersey meant that we were only an hour (without traffic, of course) from Ocean City, my family's yearly vacation destination.

-Knowing the tragic events of "Bloody Sunday" made crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL an emotional experience.

-Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.

While any of these examples could be tied to the "middle school bridge" analogy, the Golden Gate Bridge as a middle school instantly came to mind. From afar, the Golden Gate is beautiful, and it doesn't seem like a challenging task to make your way (even on foot or on a bike) from San Francisco to Sausalito. At ground level, however, anyone who has crossed the Golden Gate knows its a much more challenging than it looks. The wind whips across the Bay, and the height of the bridge only enhances the strength of the wind. Whether you are riding a bike, driving, or walking (I'm lucky to have done all three), its clearly not an easy task. Like the Golden Gate, middle school might seem easy from afar, too, but we all know that its an eventful journey for even the most well-adjusted people. The important question then is how we support students in a school across this challenging bridge and leave them prepared for upper school? Here are some of my thoughts:

-Provide students with a healthy combination of structure and support. In these years of daily change, consistency at school is essential. At the same time, students need to know that there are teachers/staff that care about them on a personal level.

-Provide good role models. While they are unlikely to admit it, middle school students watch adults closely and benefit greatly from seeing positive behavior.

-Encourage students to embrace the present. The beauty of crossing any bridge (especially the Golden Gate) should be about the journey and not the destination In today's high stakes world, we always push students to think about how their decisions/grades/athletic performance will impact their future. Encouraging students to set goals and think about the future is something that all great middle schools do, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn't undermine the value of the middle school years.

Wherever your child might be on our middle school bridge at PDS, I hope that its a wonderful year. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts,