Director of Middle School Planning
Vassar College, BA
Northwestern University, MEd
To Our Current and Future Northside Families,
In a couple of years there may be days you are asking yourself, “What happened to my adorable child?” The answer is absolutely nothing; they are still there buried beneath their insecurities and hormones.
Students in middle school are in a stage of development where their bodies and brains undergo tremendous transformation. Only in the first 18 months of life did they develop as rapidly, both physically and cognitively. Unlike like toddlers, however, these middle schoolers can be painfully, achingly self-aware. While parents remain of primary importance in the long term, in the short term, at school, it’s hard to be ignored, disapproved of, dismissed or teased. The importance of the peer group matters deeply. Having friends you know and can count on is crucial because it provides the confidence to tackle all kinds of challenges without worrying about failure.
This is where a small school becomes your ally. In a small school such as Northside, each and every student is known personally and valued individually by faculty, administrators and fellow students. Knowing every student’s name is truly half the battle. Knowing who their friends are, what their current interests are, how they deal with academic challenges, and what helps them succeed is the other half.
Many top independent schools have settled on two sections of sixteen to eighteen students per grade as a successful model – our exact goal here at Northside. Scheduling fifth/ sixth and seventh/eighth as two separate cohorts provides flexibility in academic grouping and a good base for extra-curriculars. It also supports students’ appropriate social-emotional development.
Whatever the cohort, it is crucial that middle school feels very different from earlier grades. Students want their growing independence to be acknowledged. They are ready for real challenge with a depth of learning through departmentalization. Exposure to interdisciplinary project work will excite and engage them. Co-curriculars, such as drama, student government and clubs will harness their energy and provide leadership experience. Athletics will teach resilience, physical fitness and teamwork. What all of these activities have in common is they allow students to work together.
Adults who work and live successfully with this age group love them for their energy, enthusiasm, loyalty and abilities – and I count myself among that number. I am delighted to be part of building a wonderful middle school for your children. We plan on keeping you up-to-date on the development of the curriculum, space, schedule, athletics, clubs and myriad other details as we move forward to 2018. I hope to meet everyone and hear your thoughts and ideas for our new Williamsburg Northside Middle School.
QUOTE FROM LIBBY HIXSON, Director of Middle School Planning “The differentiating design question for the faculty and administration at Northside is “How involved are the students in the learning?” This key value runs throughout the entire school. We believe that when students are excited about the subject matter or the skill they are mastering, their learning will skyrocket. Middle School students must feel empowered and intellectually respected.”
The planning underway for the September 2018 opening of our Middle School (Grades 5 to 8) is moving full steam ahead with the creation of student academic schedules, design of new science and art labs, and drafting of faculty profiles underway. Students at Northside will graduate Middle School as confident learners and enthusiastic participants in their own education. To that end, they will have developed the strong academic skills needed to prepare them to continue their education at well regarded high schools while maintaining their love of learning.
At the core of our design process is a commitment to three underlying principles.
A Strong and Positive Sense of Community
Northside is built on a foundation of supportive students, parents, faculty, and administration. Therefore, we are designing a division based on the enrollment of two sections per grade. Close, meaningful relationships with teachers and peers are critical in the Middle School years of tremendous cognitive and physical growth. We know that our students will thrive in a community small enough that everyone knows their names and yet large enough to offer rich and exciting opportunities.
Engaging and Challenging Academics
Research is clear that student engagement equals student success. Tackling relevant psychological, philosophical, and political questions captivates Middle School students as it mirrors their desire to engage with the adult world. Building on the child-centered, interdisciplinary learning in our lower divisions, our Middle School students are now ready for more rigorous demands. Our carefully designed curricula will provide our students with multiple opportunities to practice and refine the important skills of writing, reading, speaking, problem solving, and critical thinking thus building academic skills crucial to this stage of development. The key is to embed these skills in an absorbing curriculum.
These are the years where students discover new talents and passions. Athletics, drama, daily foreign language, community engagement, robotics, computer science, literary magazines, and other co-curricular offerings and clubs become focal points for their journey of self-discovery.
The outcome will be engaged, excited, and well-prepared learners.
A Committed Faculty with Demonstrated Expertise in the Middle Schools Years
The highest of design aspirations cannot be met without a committed and knowledgeable faculty. We seek teachers who take responsibility for all of their students learning by assessing and addressing individual learning needs within a common curriculum.
To complement the introduction of a new curriculum, we are transforming our space at 299 N. 7th to accommodate our Middle School Grades. The renovations of our space will include:
- Age-appropriate seminar rooms for Math, the Humanities, and Spanish.
- A new music room for our choral and band options.
- A new science lab, art studio, and maker space on our 8th floor (see pictures above).
- These additions will complement the existing dining hall and basketball gym.