middle school boys high fivingby Jenn Milam, Ph.D., Middle School Director

Editor’s Note: On the first Thursday of each month, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from one of MPA’s division directors. We hope you enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.

It seems almost unbelievable that as you read this, we have just 21 days of school left before we depart for sunnier days, fewer lunches to pack, and more time to explore this great big world around us. For me, it seems even more unreal that just a few days from now my family and I will have been here for only nine months. As one of the newest members of the MPA family, I often get asked “What’s been the best thing about coming to MPA?” And depending on the day, sometimes the time of day, that answer varies—I do work with middle schoolers, after all! The one thing I always return to, though, is that it is easy to acclimate to goodness here because there is so much of it. I am grateful for my newness to the community because it has allowed me the privilege and joy to see the good, first hand, with a fresh set of eyes.

This week, I want to share with you, our MPA community, my top 10 list of things that have inspired me this year—the top 10 reasons why I am so happy to call MPA my home, to have my own children at MPA, and to serve your children.

10. Collaboration and Shared Decision Making
As a new administrator here, this is at the core of what has made my time at MPA productive and successful. There is a deep and enduring commitment to shared leadership, collaborative decision-making, and thoughtfully engaged practice that values all voices at MPA and remains steadfastly focused on what is in the best interests of the young people we serve. This is not always easy as “too many cooks in the kitchen” can be challenging. But what I can share with you is that leading in a place where listening happens first and doing happens second, is inspiring! We all—faculty, staff, students, and community—are better for it and I have seen how leading in this way not only honors the practice of education, but every single person in it. We don’t just teach children collaboration; we model it in all we do.

9. Family
When Dr. Hudson invited me to join MPA last July and I accepted, he said, “Welcome Home, Jenn!” And each day I walk through the doors to lead at MPA, I feel at home. There is a palpable sense when you walk through our halls, that we are, in fact, a family. A family that learns together, struggles together, perseveres together, and triumphs together. We share in each other’s joys, we support when needed, and we care. Nell Noddings, one of my favorite educational theorists writes about care and its importance in education. The care shared between members of a family is not just important, but it is sustaining in ways that enable us to be the MPA our founders envisioned—a place that cares for the whole person.

8. The Eighth Grade Class
You’ll have to indulge me a bit, as the Middle School director, because the next four on my list are the grade levels with whom I share my days.

This is the first eighth grade class I’ve served as a leader. I’ve spent most of my career in the younger grades and, this year, I learned to love and appreciate what it means to serve young people who are big on the outside, but still young on the inside—even if they’d never admit it. This is an age where independence is the prize in the last games of childhood. I’ve learned to loosen my reigns while strengthening my resolve. I’ve learned to be really firm and really gentle at the same time. And most of all, I’ve learned that eighth graders are magnificent creatures on the brink of the next big moment in their life. I’ve learned that I, too, have to trust the process and let them fly. I’ll miss them all next year!

7. The Seventh Grade Class
The class of “YES!” I have asked a million and one things of the seventh grade class—students, parents, families—and I always get a joyful and eager “YES!” They are a closely bonded group of kids, always willing to lend a hand, deeply empathetic and compassionate. The seventh grade class, is from my view, one of our most eclectic—everyone has space to be themselves and they can be fiercely protective of one another and that very space. They are justice-minded, silly, and ready to lead in our Middle School. I am inspired by their, “YES!”

6. The Sixth Grade Class
This is a special and mighty class! They are close, delightfully unique as a group, and perfectly amazing as individuals. It can sometimes be that sixth grade is the middle-child of a Middle School and they possess many of the qualities of middle children—they are peace-keepers, agreeable, and loyal. They are social, committed to one another, and good at relating to both adults and their peers. There are incredible things ahead of this class and I am inspired by their goodness and their potential for pure greatness!

5. The Fifth Grade Class
This class is overflowing with energy! They can often be seen skipping (literally) through the hallways, always with something to share, and often, their minds and mouths are running so fast they can barely keep up. I have always referred to fifth grade as the “Golden Age of Childhood” because it’s the time when they break away from our guidance and set out on their own. They feel strongly about things, they are forming opinions, and finding their own way. I am inspired by their bravery, their enthusiasm, and their unwavering determination to have it their way!

4. All Are Welcome
In a world where we are often divided by our differences, MPA not only welcomes, but celebrates difference and the contributions that we all bring to this life. At MPA, young people are free to live the life they choose, encouraged to have their own dreams, their own thoughts, and they are honored for their identities, their origins, and their lived experiences. To witness a young person grow and become who they dream they can be, is one of life’s greatest gifts. I feel so fortunate to be in a place that honors that growth, nurtures the individual needs of each person, and rejoices in the uniqueness of all of us; and especially, of and for young people.

3. A Mission Well-Lived
MPA’s mission and vision to teach, to nurture, and to embrace the whole-child is front-and-center—every day, every hour, every minute. I share with prospective parents, both from the perspective as a parent and an administrator, that I see the power of this vision enacted everywhere at MPA. I see it in classrooms, I hear it in meetings, I witness the openness of allowing children to be who they are and not who we want them to be. I am inspired by those around me who consciously and thoughtfully put the child and the child’s well-being and development always at the core of their work.

2. Teachers
The best part of my job is that I am surrounded by fantastically talented, genuinely and deeply caring, unwaveringly professional teachers. I am a teacher, I am married to a teacher, I have spent my time in education working to prepare and support teachers, and I learn from teachers every day. MPA teachers are relentless in their quest for our young people’s success—they give of themselves many hours beyond the school day and they do it with love. I am, daily, inspired by their commitment to every student in the building and their admiration for MPA. It is, truly, remarkable.

Learning, at its best, is joyful. One of the many reasons MPA is what it is—JOY! From the smallest of our learners to the smiles on the faces of seniors as they don their college sweatshirts—the joy is contagious! We laugh, we learn, we lead, and we live the joy of MPA. This is absolutely the most inspiring thing about MPA!

Time can pass so quickly sometimes—it can be easy to not acknowledge or appreciate the beauty around us, the love in small moments, and the goodness that exists in the relationships we make, both close and acquaintance. I hope you share some of my joys and I hope after reading this, you’ll reflect on what has inspired you, both at MPA and beyond. Days pass quickly, my friends. Let’s all remember to find the joy and be inspired.

Thank you for inspiring me!

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