Middle School (Grades 5-8)
Welcome to the St. Thomas Middle School (STmS). This is an extraordinarily important part of the STS journey as our students leave childhood, and become the young men and women of the future. Students leave St. Thomas School prepared for the adventure of life and armed with a self-confidence, a sense of autonomy, the ability to think critically and creatively, and with core values that give life depth and purpose.
The Middle School Vision
At the heart of every initiative and adventure at STS is a vision that firmly guides the community in its quest for excellence. The Middle School program is rooted in this tradition of developing firm philosophical foundations. More can be found in our Middle School Foundation Document. Our Middle School completes the whole STS journey as our vision states:
At St. Thomas School, the Middle School prepares our young men and women for the next stage of their journey through rigorous academic achievement, ethical leadership, a powerful understanding of themselves and others, and engaged global citizenship.
Each middle school student encounters a set of unique experiences, challenges, and responsibilities this age brings. Although students continue to move from class to class, experiencing the richness of different teachers’ approaches and gaining in-depth subject area knowledge, the Homeroom setting provides a critical anchor in the day. Each student has a key adult who acts as a coach, advocate, guide, and mentor within our Homeroom/Advisory setting. This special Homeroom grouping starts and ends each day, and this gathering not only forges community but also offers a forum to discuss developmental concerns such as friendship, fairness, and task management questions that come up at this age. Students are becoming more reflective and need a safe environment to discuss events of the day. Students are encouraged to find their voices as issues of concern are raised as well as moments of success celebrated.
These special Homeroom/Advisory sessions allow students to experience the following in greater depth in an atmosphere of mutual sharing and Socratic debate:
- Goal setting and reflection
- Buddy activities
- Class Meeting time
- Service Learning time
- Study skills
- Test-taking skills
- Time management skills
- Career development
- Health and Personal Education
- Leadership training
- Use of library (6-8)
- Exploration of brain research
- Values and character education
- Personalized learning
- Chapel discussion
- MS issues
- Presentation and interview skills training
Students are increasingly able to assume leadership roles, and this is emphasized throughout the middle school years in many ways. Various partnership programs with younger grades, such as our Primary/5th/6th “Primary Partner” program, draw out a special leadership skill set, as our middle schoolers are able to work with younger students of our school community. Younger children look up to their older partners as guides, mentors, and special friends. This relationship between students of different ages becomes significant for those of each age. Through moments of community in Homeroom/Advisory, serving as role models every day, and through their activities with their younger buddies, our middle schoolers develop the internal confidence which enables them to stand up and express themselves with authenticity, clarity, and power. We will have an active, direct leadership program across 7th and 8th grades where students receive explicit training in leadership qualities based on the most recent sociological research. The Service Learning program is also of fundamental importance to STmS. Drama and performance experiences provide opportunities to develop public speaking and presentational skills.
STmS Building Blocks
Middle schoolers have an increasing capacity for reflecting upon and understanding their own personal journey in a larger context of that of their family, their community, their nation, and their world. Each grade has a guiding theme which reflects the development journey of that year. The use of the laptop program continues for students throughout middle school, and we use a special binder and organizational system that allows for students to manage and organize their materials in a logical fashion. The use of a Student Planner is important as it enables students to learn to manage time and their tasks with independence.
At STmS we have crafted a set of experiences that reflect students’ developmental stages and growing interest in the broader world. We have sought to define each year’s experience with a unifying idea that gives shape and identity to that year, but also connects with the overall Middle School journey. To help young adolescents engage with their learning, they need to sense that what they are studying has meaning and is relevant to their personal lives as well as the wider world. Bellow follows a sequence of unifying ideas:
- 4th Grade: Exploration
- 5th Grade: Origins
- 6th Grade: Discovery: Entering New Worlds
- 7th Grade: Revolutionaries
- 8th Grade: The Renaissance Mind
The 7th Grade Journey: Revolutionaries
“Every generation needs a new revolution.”
– Thomas Jefferson
7th Grade is an exciting time, for students at this age are filled with powerful questions. They are questioning themselves, they are questioning ideas, and they are questioning the world around them. They are fascinated by those who take a stand to make a difference in the world. To reflect this important developmental stage, we have developed the concept of Revolutionaries. Students will encounter the lives of those who have changed the world forever, be it in the world of science, of literature, of the arts, or in history.
The journey of the year will be highlighted by the symbolic journey of the hero or heroine. Each of us in our own stories face a series of steps during our lives that give meaning to challenges and trials in life as we become stronger individuals and bring change to the world. This journey is defined by critical stages that are reflected in literature and life.
The Hero or Heroine’s Journey (based on the work of Susan Thompson and Reg Harris)
- The Call to Adventure: Taking on challenges and solving important problems
- The Threshold: Stepping into the unknown; taking a risk
- The Challenges: The challenges that strengthen us
- The Abyss: The toughest moment or greatest challenge
- Transformation and Revelation: How we are changed
- The Return: How we now contribute to the community
The 8th Grade Journey: The Renaissance Mind (based on the work of Michael Gelb)
“How to think like Leonardo.”
Leonardo da Vinci’s genius crossed many different fields from scientific invention to stunning portraiture. This ability to cross over into different fields and forge connections between them mirrors the brain’s singular needs, especially during early adolescence.
During this special time of children’s lives, our students’ brains are growing exponentially. Neural connections are undergoing a period of rapid expansion. We know that young adolescents need to have different parts of the brain connected with each other in order for their full intellects and characters to be engaged. To meet this need, we have developed the Renaissance Mind as an overall theme that defines the 8th Grade journey where all aspects of our children are challenged from artistic expression to philosophical debate to scientific exploration!
Our 8th Grade students will be challenged with an individual as well as a collective journey that deepens their critical thinking skills and engages the creative learning process. Each student will be equipped with his or her special Artist’s Journal for the year with specially-devised mind-maps that provoke personal reflection as well as capture key concepts from various courses.
Stages of the Renaissance Mind Learning Process:
- Curiosita: Asking the Question
- Dimonstrazione: Beginning Exploration of Question
- Arte/Science: Creative Exploration of Question through Arts and Sciences
- Sfumato: Incubation Period
- Connessions: Illumination – Solution to Question and Seeing Connections
Study Skills/Brain Research
The 21st century student needs to understand his or her learning profile. All relevant tools for understanding will be experienced, whether it be grasping the influence of personality type, left brain and right rain learning, multiple intelligence theory, different modality styles, or the power of attitude such as with the “fixed” or “growth” mindset modes. The ongoing insights and their implications from current brain research will be part of our student’s work on reflecting upon themselves as well as their community of peers and in modern society.
Critical to student success is organizational skills. Our students receive training in the following areas using some key strategies noted by Diane Newton’s Learn it With Class. Some of the skills are noted below:
|| Study Skills
|| Memory Model
| Supply List
|| Note Taking
|| Memory Structures
| Organizing a Notebook
|| Steps to memorizing
|| Memory Exercises
| Home Organization
|| Class Participation
|| Parent Involvement
| File Box
|| Reading Textbooks
| Supply Box
|| Test Taking
|| Parents’ Roles
| Managing Time
|| Papers and Projects
| Student Contract
|| Memory Strategies
In the past, traditional school education focused on academics but missed the vital topic of tackling critical skills to prepare for common but profoundly important moments of life. Preparing for common key life events that we all experience, be it saving for retirement, experiencing death and bereavement process were addressed. Here at STmS we start preparing our students for social and emotional competence, as well as tackling basic financial awareness. We tackle some of the following topics through simulated practicums:
- Managing life transitions such as rites of passage, marriage, parenting, death
- Sex education
- Civility etiquette
- Investing – creating a budget, saving, investing
- Healthy lifestyles – diet, exercise, sleep
- Peer relations – friendship and social problem solving
The Health Fair
STmS has a unique approach to the health education. Along with addressing health topics in science, Homeroom/Advisory, and Physical Education classes, starting in the fall of 2012, a special health fair will be held. This is a week-long experience composed of compulsory classes and electives, allowing students to choose topics of interest to themselves, as well as opportunities to work with students in other grades. Workshops, seminars, and presentations will be led by teachers and staff from our school, as well as parents of the school and outside experts.
8th Grade Graduation June 2014
At STS we know that rites of passage are essential and add meaning and depth to different stages of our lives. The 6th Grade Graduation in the past has always been a moving, personal experience of significant intensity, with the 6th Graders themselves, rather than visiting guest speakers, taking center stage as they deliver personal speeches with passion and poise. Graduation 2011 was the last 6th Grade graduation, as the school makes its historical transition to 8th grade.
The first 8th Grade Graduation will start in June 2014 with a ceremony of equal power to our current 6th Graders, with the emphasis on service, leadership, self-reflection, and journey accentuated. Our 8th Grade graduates’ voices will be at the forefront! A salient portion of the graduation service will see our 8th Grade students reporting back from their service learning experiences that they initiated earlier in the year.
Each stage of the STS journey is critical, but the STmS program allows each graduating student to set forth with the following:
- A developed awareness of the larger world and its current challenges, asking significant and relevant questions about that world, and wrestling with its important questions
- A sophisticated, advanced grasp of all academic content areas as well as supporting subject area skills based upon a rigorous, challenging, enriching curriculum
- The ability to think rationally, critically, and creatively and test out and express these thoughts in writing and speaking, through the arts and music, through the science and technology
- The ability to think like a mathematician, a scientist, an artist, a historian, a geographer, and a writer
- The ability to read and think deeply to gather, evaluate and interpret information from a variety of sources and read avidly in the quest for life-long learning
- The confidence to speak and present one’s self articulately with poise and engagement
- A reflective understanding of one’s individual strengths, skills, talents, and interests as well as an emerging grasp of how these contribute to society and to personal fulfillment
- An understanding of personal strengths balanced by a developed sense of the needs of the group or community within which one lives and functions and an appreciation of the value of those individuals whose talents, skills, background, and values may differ significantly from one’s own
- A clear ability to make responsible, ethical decisions and an active concern for the welfare of others
- A knowledge of the role of leadership and service and the ability to set, plan for, and carry out goals
- A developed set of interpersonal and social skills needed in order to work, team, and play with others
- A series of tools for reflection that allows each student to understand himself or herself in greater depth and that establish a personal framework for understanding oneself and the world
- An understanding of how to lead a healthy, active life that supports his or her own health and wellness needs
- The technological tools to explore, communicate, and collaborate with the world imbued with a powerful ethic of global citizenship
- The passion to commit to a lifetime of service to others and to the stewardship of the earth and its resources
- The ability to respect and value the diverse ways people look, speak, think, and act across the world
- An understanding of the world of music and the arts, and a recognition of their importance to one’s own learning and development and that of a civilized society
- An understanding of the essential ideas and use of the critical tools in the areas of health and physical education, language arts, mathematics, science, and the social sciences
- An advanced understanding of a foreign language to enhance the sense of global citizenship as well as developing a familiarity with the roots of language and culture (Latin) and the diversity of expressive language and culture through familiarity with another modern language (Spanish)
- An awareness of the past and present religions and ideologies of the world that have motivated human behavior
- A notion of citizenship founded upon understanding local, national, and global responsibilities
- An awareness of different types of careers and opportunities available in the world with a readiness to explore these as they prepare for the next steps of their journey
- A sense of life as an adventure with challenges, joys, and accomplishments