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What is Middle School?

The evolution of Middle School began in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Middle Schools were designed to help bridge the gap for students between elementary school and high school. Middle schools include some of the same philosophies as elementary schools while incorporating many high school practices. Middle school contains an educational program for a combination of grades which implements concepts that focus on the characteristics and needs of young adolescents. The general idea for middle school is to prepare students socially and academically for high school while maintaining the close personal contact of elementary school. Some of the main philosophies behind middle school are as follows:
  • Academic teaming
  • Teaming of Teachers
  • Advisor/Advisee
  • Exploratory/Enrichment
  • Interdisciplinary Teaching
  • Block Scheduling
Academic teaming focuses on small communities for learning or a school-within-a-school approach in which students and teachers are grouped together as teams. Teaming allows teachers to know students well and permits teachers to work together to focus on students in positive ways to affect learning. A team can bridge the gap for students, providing a transition between the self-contained elementary classrooms and the departmentalized classrooms of high schools. Students in schools using teams become members of units smaller than the full grade enrollments, allowing them to identify with a stable group of peers and develop a closer association with a single group of teachers.

The teaming of teachers encourages teachers to collaborate in planning lessons, organizing team activities, and planning for advisory time. Teachers also establish expectations and team rules resulting in consistency for their students. Teams have daily common team planning time that allows teachers time to work together in the planning process. The common team planning time makes it easier to schedule student and/or parent conferences. Most teams include the teachers of the core academic subjects as well as teachers from the encore or elective classes.

Middle school teams also provide an avenue for parents to connect to their child's teachers. Having the opportunity to meet with all teachers to discuss the needs of their child allows parents and teachers to become partners in education.

In homebase, the teacher acts as a positive role model for students and also as an advocate for the child. The group is like a family within the community of the school. The program provides academic and emotional support for students. Some examples of what can be included in an advisor/advisee program are as follows:
  • Establish an orientation program that familiarizes students with the procedures and rules of the building.
  • Develop group, team, and school spirit.
  • Set and obtain goals and expectations.
  • Improve study, test taking, and note taking skills.
  • Develop programs to improve students' reading skills.
  • Transition from one grade to the next.
  • Incorporate character education curriculums.
Exploratory/enrichment offerings consist of special interest activities of short duration that provide learning opportunities for students based on student interest, faculty expertise, and community involvement. These offerings help students discover and/or examine learning related to their changing needs, aptitudes, and interests.

Interdisciplinary instruction involves teams of teachers who combine their expertise in course content to integrate the disciplines and interface common areas of the curriculum. The units are based on a central topic or themes that are used to interrelate subject matter from various disciplines and reinforce key concepts. Interdisciplinary teaching offers ways for integrating learning among content areas. The main emphasis in interdisciplinary units is on the depth and quality of understanding of major concepts in each subject and the connections with all subjects.

One way to make teaming, interdisciplinary units, and advisory programs more effective is block scheduling. Within the scheduling system, longer blocks of time are available to the teams in core subject areas. Teachers are able to change class schedules whenever the need exists to best meet the needs and interests of students, and to capitalize on learning opportunities. Blocks provide opportunities for creativity in classroom instruction and promote in-depth learning.

Although there are many different variations of middle school organization and middle school practices, the general philosophies are the same. A successful middle school should foster a sense of belonging, confidence, and self-esteem in young adolescents. Meaningful participation in school life and positive interaction with teachers and peers will add to student success.

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