Want an interesting read about what middle level schools could (and should be)? Take a look at “How to fix the mess we call middle school” by Washington Post education writer, Valerie Strauss.
The title may not draw you in, but ignore it and start reading. Strauss argues for a type of school that responds to the needs of every young adolescent…not more test prep…”but a cross between summer camp and the Civilian Conservation Corps camps with plenty of physical activity, structured groups and time with peers, with a little formal education thrown in.”
Strauss suggests that middle school be a “boot camp for life” with more physical activity, hands-on, and minds-on learning. Also, a focus on service learning to teach responsibility and give young adolescents the opportunities they crave, to do something meaningful for others. Other excellent ideas include more attention to the arts, focusing on issues relevant to this age group (nutrition and obesity for example), learning about financial literacy through running small businesses, and much more.
All good ideas, yet hardly new. Collectively, this type of school would look very different from the “keep ’em in their seats, quiet, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter” 1950s school model that is the “default” setting for K-12 schools in the U.S. (By the way, in the last 10 years, NCLB, the standards’ movements, and a focus on assessment has seriously impeded students’ learning.) Do you ever wonder why we all-too-often fall back on a model with no proven record of success?
We won’t take everything Strauss says literally, but her ideas give insights into the developmentally responsive schools for young adolescents we’ve been talking about for 50 years. Many Maine middle level schools have programs built on these same principles…where students are actively engaged, excited about learning, and ready to make a difference in their schools, towns, and communities. Aren’t these the attributes and skills that we want all our kids to have…and know…and use?
One more thing to remember. Young adolescents and their unique needs don’t go away when we house them in buildings with younger and older students…not called middle schools. Changing the grade configuration of a school isn’t the answer. Strauss hits the nail on the head…”The sustained experimentation with middle school-age students has continued because schools have failed to meet the emotional and academic needs of adolescents.”
We know what makes a difference…do we have the will to provide the schools our young adolescents need?