Canterbury Middle School: Meeting Students Where They Are

My 4th grade student was pretty excited to be invited to lunch with Head of School Burns Jones and Middle School Director David Skeen. She didn’t realize that it was more than a lunch; it was her first orientation to middle school. Over the past few weeks, students have attended these lunch sessions in small groups, in which they were invited to ask questions, hear more about middle school, and get to know their new division director.

During the winter and spring trimester, 4th grade students and parents are gaining an introduction to middle school, which at Canterbury begins with 5th grade. Recently, David Skeen, middle school faculty members, and the Admission Office hosted an evening Meet the Middle School session for 4th grade parents.

Several administrators and teachers share interesting in and out of classroom learning experiences on their Twitter feeds. Follow along!

Many administrators and teachers share interesting Tweets about hands-on learning inside and outside of the classroom. Follow along!

“At Canterbury, we know the students well. We meet them where they are,” Mr. Skeen emphasized during his presentation.

Where are middle school students anyway? From age 10 to 15, they are in a stage of rapid brain development. Until about 10 years ago, teachers and parents believed most of a child’s brain development was finished by middle school. The job was to fill the brain with knowledge…like a little vessel. Through the use of brain imaging, neurologists found the brain actually grows a lot during the middle school years. The only other comparable stage is birth to age three.

So this is not our version of middle school (junior high, anyone?) because educators are meeting children at this newly discovered place of brain growth. And with brain changes come significant social, emotional, physical, and intellectual growth.

In terms of academic support, the middle school has created layers of contact with the students.

Mr. Skeen also explained that the job of the middle school is to provide “structure and relationships to help (students) accomplish their goals in safe and healthy ways.”

One example of the Canterbury structure is the Social Contract. Students in 5th through 8th grade meet to represent their grade levels and decide what the rules for middle school students should be. Once they agree upon these rules, the Social Contract is drafted, signed, framed and hung in Armfield Hall as a reminder of their agreement with each other and the faculty. The contract is one way Canterbury sets high expectations for every member of the community.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.05.11 PMTwenty-first century skills of scholarship, leadership, and service are also a focus. When I first heard the phrase “21st century skills,” my mind went to technology and the tablet learning program, but I had so much to learn. These skills are also developed through understanding others. The program “In My Neighbor’s Shoes” is a three day service learning project in which students explore how other people in our community live. Each middle school grade visits various areas of Greensboro to learn more about the realities of others, and they must articulate their experience to the rest of the student body.

In terms of academic support, the middle school has created layers of contact with the students. Each child is assigned to an advisory, similar to a home room but with much more character development. These advisory teachers are the first and last teachers students see, and they continue the “morning meeting” type of activity that the middle school students first experienced in lower school. In addition to the instruction students gain from teachers throughout the day, faculty members offer optional after-school tutorial sessions – much like a professor’s office hours – for students who want extra help. Students also have the benefit of an additional team of faculty members who help guide them: Judy Cram, Middle School Student Support Services; Kat Wolfson, Middle School Counselor; The Rev. Nathan Finnin, Chaplain; and Kathy Durham, Director of Student Life.

“I like the message that the after-school tutorials sends to the kids,” Andrea Spencer observed. Her daughter will enter middle school next year. “That message is: ‘The work is challenging, but we are here for you; take the responsibility to come to us.’”

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All 5th grade students will attend a study skills class for the first part of the year to provide a solid foundation for academic success. They will also get an opportunity to sample foreign language offerings before choosing one language to study for the duration of their time at Canterbury.

Fourth grade students will begin to visit the middle school in small groups, and they will each have a big sister or big brother who will help answer questions and show them the ropes. Probably the most exciting part of orientation is early adoption of the middle school dress code for 4th grade students in the spring trimester.

One orientation or one blog post can only scratch the surface of the spirit of the middle school at Canterbury. I would encourage parents to subscribe to the Twitter feed for Dave Skeen and other faculty members to get a snapshot of middle school activities. From following our amazing faculty, I learn something new every day.

by Kelly McKee

mckee Kelly McKee is a freelance writer and community volunteer. She has three daughters and a very high golf handicap (these two facts are not unrelated). Follow her on Twitter: @narrowprovince

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