THE Middle School
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; […] it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Although he was describing France of the late 1790s, those of us who work with young adolescents might wonder, tongue in cheek, if Dickens was actually describing the middle school years! Both periods represent a time when passions and reason are sometimes at odds. For young adolescents, middle school is a time of an immense transition as human beings and thus as learners. Not since their initial years have children experienced such dramatic growth and development of brain and body—and never again will such growth and development occur on so grand a scale. It is an exciting and challenging time! On the academic end of the spectrum, students are consolidating the gains they have made in lower school while also going through a time of rapid mental and physical development. On the personal side of the spectrum, students are beginning to yearn for greater independence—yet they still want the boundaries to let them know they are safe and cared for. To borrow a phrase often heard from sportscasters, “You can’t stop them; you can only hope to contain them.” At Pingry, however, we don’t simply want to contain this development, we also want to channel it and cultivate it.
Core Academics. Our task in the Pingry Middle School is to provide the structure, the challenge, and the support for students to grow. Through our rigorous academic program, we challenge the brain as it continues to develop. Students are engaged with thoughtful exploration of English, history, science, math, and world languages, where students can choose from among Spanish, French, German, Latin, and Mandarin Chinese. Remembering that students are at different stages in their development, our math and world language classes are grouped by student ability. Being on a Grade 6-Grade 12 campus allows students to be challenged to their level of readiness. The distinct advantage of a school like Pingry is having the opportunity to offer especially gifted middle school students placement in courses like BC Calculus, Physics, or the like-and we have done so.
The Arts. Fine and performing arts—optional or “extra” in some schools—are integral parts of the Pingry Middle School curriculum. In Grade 6 and Form I, all students take drama, art, and performance music. In music, they may choose from among band, string ensemble, and chorus. In Forms I and II, students see their music choices expand to include handbell choir. It is a full experience, and it is one that we believe adds to their development as people. We celebrate the individual by showing how one individual contributes mightily to the ensemble music experience.
Physical Education & Athletics. Through the physical education and athletics program, we help develop the body while also providing an outlet for the seemingly boundless energy of the age. Students in Grade 6 are in a unit-based physical education program where they participate in all the sports that they will have an opportunity to play interscholastically at Pingry. The Grade 6 program also provides limited, optional experiences to don the “White and Blue” and represent Pingry in an interscholastic sports experience. Team sports are the foundation of the PE program in Form I and II, but the sports themselves are completely their choice: we maintain a “no-cut” policy in Middle School sports so students have the chance to participate in a team sports experience at the level of their ability. To wit: a Pingry Middle Schooler provides the will; we provide the way.
Guidance by Caring, Professional Adults. As middle school students are beginning to emerge as independent individuals, we adults in the community are in the same role as parents. Where in the lower grades parents took on primary roles as the central guiding influence, in the Middle School, parents share a new role—like our faculty—and serve as secondary or “guiding” influences. We are all encouraging the individual within the child while also providing the veritable invisible safety net should they falter.
That safety net for students includes an advisor – and an advisory group. Each student is assigned an advisor from among the student’s core academic subject teachers. The advisor serves as a student’s guide for the year, helping students negotiate the academic program as well as their social experiences. We all understand that young adolescents experience sometimes-turbulent seas, and having an experienced adult to guide, support—and sometimes to cajole—can make all the difference for a student. Each child is also part of an advisory group lead by that adult. Students and advisors meet formally three times each week in a dedicated advisory period. The advisory group also meets together for Conference Period at another time of the day, a time when students may work on homework, meet with other academic subject teachers, or occasionally work on group projects. So as a core subject teacher, as an advisory leader, and as a Conference Period proctor, Pingry teachers know students in several areas of their life, and in this way they can lend appropriate guidance and support.
The changes our children experience in Middle School are merely a part of their development. It is an exciting time, and it is a challenging time. We are helping them consolidate the gains made in Lower School while we prepare them for the worlds of challenge and choice: Upper School.
Philip Cox, B.A., M.A.
Middle School Director
Squash Club Sponsor
Please click here for more information about the Middle School Curriculum.