We all know what it was like being in middle school: Being on the cusp of adulthood and having no idea where you fit in, all while tackling more advanced academic subjects and a breadth of extracurriculars independently. Dr. Joshua Deitch, head of the middle school at King School, says the middle school program there is unique in its combination of curriculum and activities to empower students during those formative years between sixth and eighth grade to grow and learn in a safe environment that nurtures while fostering a level of engagement and excitement they might not get anywhere else.
“Middle school should be very much an exploration of a variety of high-level academic disciplines while also an exploration of self and community,” affirms Deitch. “I think the combination of personal development, the development of an understanding of self, and the ability to then communicate that self and find a place in the world in an increasingly sophisticated way is very much what makes our middle school program unique.”
To achieve this, sixth graders at King students attend a two-week Middle School University in September. It’s a metacognitive focus on executive functioning skills that are required for children to be good students and good citizens. “That comes with a lot of exploration,” says Deitch. “We’re an inquiry-based school. All of our programs are intentionally designed to help our students develop as thinkers and ask big questions about the world around them. King prioritizes the development of intellectual skills such as analysis and synthesis, collaboration, content mastery, and awareness of the interconnections between distinct subject areas. This deeply engaging style of learning equips our students with the tools necessary to navigate a complex world, enabling them to thrive.”
Sixth graders answer the essential question: Who am I and who are we? In seventh grade, students focus on how they see themselves and how others see them. Then in eighth grade, they answer the question: What does my community need from me and what do I need from my community?
While academic programming is essential in answering these big-picture questions, extracurriculars are just as important. “We’re a community focused on providing our students with a variety of experiences,” says Deitch. Whether that means competitive athletics like field hockey and soccer, or developmental programs like golf and paddle tennis, students are able to explore interests at their own level. This is true in the performing and visual arts, too. Eighth graders can even select an arts major or minor to start honing in on experiences that speak to them.
King also partners with nonprofits to give the students the experience of giving back in a real and meaningful way. “There are the traditional Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic, which you would hope a middle school does right,” says Deitch. “But at King, we also focus on relationships, relevance, and richness. Relationships are first because our students need to be seen, known, understood, and mostly loved. In order to do that, our teachers see them as full people capable of being something great. They are invested in their success.”
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