Middle School Signature Programs
Middle School students participate in affinity groups based on particular aspects of their identity, such as gender or religion. Affinity groups meet once per month, led by a faculty advisor and two student leaders, to discuss some of the challenges and rewards that come with that particular identity. Each group facilitates an assembly presentation to help educate members of the community. For example, the Christian affinity group talked about assumptions that are often made about all Christians, while our Muslim affinity group taught the student body about four of the most important holidays in Islam.
We are standing on the deck of a boat in the light rain, bundled up in our foul weather gear, and a hush falls over the group as we watch a family of deer nibble grass on the shore. Later, it stops raining. Morale is high. So is the volume level as the chorus of students’ crescendos to the chorus of “Call Me Maybe.”
The glow from the sun fades, and the clouds have moved on, revealing the tapestry of stars spread out on the sky. Inside the tent, we wield our headlamps like lightsabers, piercing the darkness with the beams of LED brightness. As we burrow into our beds and tuck in our mosquito nets, the lamps click off one by one. We fall asleep wrapped in the warmth of Annie’s voice as she reads to us from a well-loved copy of Walk Two Moons.
Moments like these are at the heart of the experience of Echo Hill. Each year that we travel to Echo Hill Outdoor School on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there is a familiar pattern to the experience. The students arrive with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. They love the food (the famous cornbread usually makes an appearance at the first meal), and they are deeply dismayed that there are no flushing toilets. They battle the elements and their own homesickness. They develop an increased comfort with each other, and their support networks both widen and become stronger. They learn and grow in ways that have a lasting impact on their sense of self.
This trip is one of the major cornerstones of the Friends’ Central seventh grade experience, one that students tend to remember and discuss for years to come. We believe that this is such an important experience for so many reasons. There is the sense of cohesion it brings to each class. There are the environmental messages, presented to the students when they learn about SLOP (Stuff Left On Plate) and how to reduce their impact on the planet. The students experience the power of “challenge by choice,” a method of instruction in which they set goals that will challenge them individually (in keeping with Vygotsky’s theory that the Zone of Proximal Development is the most productive for new learning) and then receive support in meeting those goals. Finally, they practice firsthand the Quaker testimonies of simplicity and stewardship, and they came away with an increased awareness of the comforts they may have previously taken for granted.
We use nets to dredge up pools of muck from the bottom of the swamp, then sift through it with our hands, pulling out beetles and dragonfly larvae and leeches as we chat about how ecosystems change over time. For most of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a blissful departure from the lives we lead at home. At the same time, it is a surprising introduction to ourselves, to the people we did not yet know we could be.
Middle School Mini-Courses transport students in grades 6-8 to places and activities centered in and around Friends’ Central and the city of Philadelphia. During the week before Spring Break, the teachers in the Middle School organize a series of workshops – or mini-courses – for the children of the Middle School. Through collaborative and cooperative learning, the students accomplish many goals because of their willingness to take risks and work interdependently. They are able to maximize their own and each other’s learning, while gaining from each other’s efforts. Students are encouraged to think “out of the box,” and to listen to one another, while engaging in a variety of activities and experiences.
Through these mini-courses, the sometimes artificial boundaries between subject matters can be torn down, and students see how all knowledge is interconnected. Education is not, and should not be, limited to merely acquiring information in the classroom; it should also bring that learning to everyday actions and behaviors that produce effective citizens who will contribute to their communities.
Mini-Courses that were offered recently included:
- Good to Know, which showed students many of life's little skills, from changing a tire to building a fire
- Blood, Sweat and Tears: The History of Medicine examined the history of medicine - from ancient times to the present.
- The Big House explored the history and design of the modern prison and the politics of mass incarceration.
- Pompeii included a study of this cataclysmic event in historical, social, and scientific context, with students examining film, documentary, museum exhibition, and both fiction and nonfiction reading.
- In Design, Make, and Market, students designed and built custom ice cream molds to help a local business create one-of-a-kind ice cream wedding cakes.
- In art + science / science + art aesthetics + stewARTship / stewARTship + art, students explored science and art through natural materials, while learning about our environment and local environmental artists.
- In Bridge Over Indian Creek, students worked with the Overbrook Farms community to design, plan, and begin construction of a bridge that was washed out.
- Past and Present Historical Sports Buildings in Philadelphia gave students a look at sports in Philadelphia, featuring trips to Citizens Bank Park, the Palestra, and Franklin Field.
- In Mythbusters, students explored science the “Mythbusters” way, with a signature mix of the scientific method, gleeful curiosity, elbow-grease ingenuity, and, of course, hands-on experiments, letting students put myths to the test!
- The Sports Reporters encouraged students to debate topics and current events around sports, select the all-time best players in each sport, create a “SportsCenter” segment, and travel to a local news station to go behind the scenes of sports coverage.
Learning through service and instilling a commitment to community service is an essential part of life at Friends’ Central School. All Middle School students participate in service projects every Wednesday for about an hour and a half. As we expose our students to a broad range of projects on and off campus, the notion of a world bigger than their own becomes a reality. Our students learn to be comfortable in new and different situations, to find commonalities with people different than themselves and, most importantly, they learn that they can make a difference in the School community and beyond.
Click here read more about Middle School Service Projects and Clubs.