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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Behind the scenes at BackPack Beginnings

The office space was buzzing with activity as I walked into BackPack Beginnings (BPB) on Alliance Drive. Justin McCollum’s 3rd graders were starting their first service learning field trip of the school year. Boxes were cut open. Food items checked and put in plastic bags. Everything was counted, repacked, and stacked, all the while children’s voices echoed down the hallways.

The students stated their purpose clearly: “We are packing food for kids who do not have enough on the weekends.” And they learned the ropes quickly. “Pack two juices, two proteins. Nothing smushed.”

They also got the point. “This is fun,” a child said. “I feel like I am helping someone!”

Canterbury third graders helping at BackPack Beginnings.

Canterbury 3rd graders help at BackPack Beginnings.

Canterbury’s 3rd graders head out to the BackPack Beginnings distribution center once a trimester to perform many different duties. Packing up food bags. Sorting books, clothing, or school supplies. Checking donated food for damage before going out for delivery.

An organization run entirely by volunteers, BackPack Beginnings provides local children in need with nutritious food, comfort items, or basic necessities. Canterbury supports the mission not only through 3rd grade service learning time, but also through food deliveries conducted by the Canterbury Parents Association.

This year, the CPA volunteers are led by Julie Pyrtle (Emma, Kindergarten and Fenton, Pre-K). Every Thursday, a pair of volunteers picks up the prepared food bags from the distribution center, checks though their school list for any food allergies, and then delivers the food packs to Poplar Grove Head Start on Summit Avenue. According to Julie, the last delivery served 44 children at the school.

Canterbury third graders helping at BackPack Beginnings.

Canterbury 3rd graders help at BackPack Beginnings.

Parker White is the founder of BackPack Beginnings. A mother of two, Parker began the organization in January 2010, initially feeding 50 children in one school. Utilizing Feeding America’s national BackPack Program and partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, BPB partners with Guilford County Title 1 schools and Head Start agencies to identify children in need of food on weekends. Now, BPB has expanded to include three programs beyond the food backpacks (comfort backpacks, food pantries, and a clothing pantry). This fall, the organization will feed more than 1,300 children in 26 schools.

The need in Guilford County may shock you. More than 43,000 children (58 percent) in Guilford County schools are at risk of going hungry each week. Just five dollars can feed a hungry child for the weekend.

BackPack Beginnings is the story of how Parker, one person, took the first step to make a huge impact in the lives of many helpless children. Recently, she answered a few questions for me:

What keeps you going? You are a mom of two and this is a big undertaking; do you ever feel like you are in survival mode and just can’t fit it all in?

Absolutely. I feel overwhelmed all the time and only get to about 60 percent of my daily BPB goals each day.  When I started this, I planned to devoted a few hours a week. But it is now 40-50 hours a week. However, we have found ten amazing core volunteer “staff,” 150 food delivery volunteers, and 50-100 office volunteers. Without them and our supporters, it would not be possible. What keeps me going is their support and the thought of the many helpless children in Guilford County who are in need of food, clothing, comfort, and more. When I get stressed, all I need to do is read some of the feedback from the children we serve and I get that motivation again.

How did you come up with this idea of backpacks?

When living in Washington D.C., I had heard of food backpack programs and that it was such a wonderful idea. When I moved to Greensboro, I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. And, once I saw that this organization was really taking off, I knew that I wanted it to be more than food. I wanted to create other backpack programs that helped all subsets of children in need.

Do you feel like this is your purpose or calling in life?

Definitely. Looking back on it all, I feel like God had this plan for me, and it was the reason I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I believe this is what I was meant to do with my life. Only God could have made it grow so quickly, provided the right people at the right time, etc. I could not have done this on my own.

What’s your advice to someone who has an idea to help or start something new, but just can’t seem to figure out where to start?

Some advice: Do your research and talk to as many people as you can. If you are passionate about something, make yourself knowledgeable about that field and how you can play a role in it. Collaborate with others. Not many people excel when isolating themselves from others who are doing similar things. And believe in yourself when others may not. We were told that a group of stay-at-home-moms couldn’t pull off a 100 percent volunteer nonprofit, but that only lit a fire under us. Push back against the naysayers if you believe this is what you are meant to do.

What’s next for BackPack Beginnings?

BPB is continuing to find ways to grow all four of its programs and our next step, in order to do that, is to find new office space. We have been blessed with 3,300 square feet of donated space, but we have quickly outgrown it and hope to move this summer. A move to a larger space, although it may be costly, will allow us to expand to serve more children.

TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH THE LATEST NEWS, NEEDS, AND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES, LIKE BACKPACK BEGINNINGS ON FACEBOOK:  www.facebook.com/BackPackBeginnings

by Katie Hu

huKatie Hu is the parent of Brady (4th-Hoover), Maggie (2nd-McIlwain) and Mason (2025). Her favorite part of Canterbury is the chapel and the teachers. She loves a quiet walk in the woods, yoga, and a tall glass of kale afterwards.