middle school student working in groupAs the school calendar approaches its midway point, and winter break offers a breather from the daily routine, it’s a great time for parents and their Middle School students to connect on where they are and what their goals are for the balance of the year.

Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School director, explains that in addition to sending home traditional report cards each quarter, MPA’s faculty provides substantive comments on a student’s progress along with posting grades. “Often times a report card is seen as a destination—a final outcome—and we are hoping parents join us instead in viewing an end to a quarter as an invitation to reflect,” she says. “More specifically, it is a moment to ask your student to reflect on their own effort, commitment, understanding of content presented, and growth as a student and human being.” She reinforces that “learning doesn’t happen in nine-week segments, or even academic years. Our role as a school is to help young people learn how they learn best, find their passions, refine their areas for growth, and develop a sense of self-confidence in who they are.”

MPA’s Middle School structure reflects the developmental process that students experience as they move from childhood to early adolescence. “Fifth grade is a bridge year between the Lower School and Middle School—for example, students have mile markers like no more uniforms, but their academic grading follows the Lower School model,” explains Robyn Kramer, Lower and Middle School learning specialist. “Sixth graders have expanded freedoms along with the according levels of responsibility. In seventh and eighth grade the bar is definitely raised, knowing that students have the skill sets to handle more personal accountability, and to prepare them for the expectations of MPA’s Upper School.”

Kramer emphasizes that Middle School is a critical time for students to focus on their growth as a whole person, not only as a student. “It’s really about cultivating about a broader set of conversations beyond grades, including how things are going socially, emotionally, and interpersonally. It’s an important time for parents to have discussions with their students about appropriately building independence and taking more and more ownership for their school experience.”

Student-Led Conversations
When it comes to goal planning for the second half of the year, Kramer recommends that the student leads the conversation. “Start by asking your child what they’re most proud of, and where they are most interested in focusing for the second half of the year. Then, ask them to define the steps that are needed to get to that goal, making sure that those steps are manageable and achievable. The mid-year review doesn’t necessarily need to be tied to pure academics—it might be a goal around building confidence to participate more in class, or to make a new friend, or to join a sport team or get involved with a new club. The goal should reflect the whole child, and where they see themselves going for the balance of this year and into the next, and to think about how fulfilling it will be to achieve that goal.”

While the mid-year check in should be student-driven, MPA’s whole support system is wrapped around helping children achieve at all stages of their schooling and development. “Our Middle School teachers and staff meet together biweekly to share how things are going with our students, compare notes, celebrate successes and share ‘happy happenings,’” says Kramer. “We know our kids, we know when something’s different, and we’ll reach out to each other and to students and families to identify and talk about issues early, when they’re a lot easier to address.”

Kramer sees that personal commitment of faculty to students as a powerful and unique aspect of MPA’s educational approach. “At MPA, students are visible, known, supported, and respected,” she says. “We help students discover who they are and then empower them to explore how to fulfill that vision of themselves. It’s a beautiful thing, to be part of a place that cares so much, and is set up so well to help students succeed.”

Learn More About It: Midyear Check-ins And Planning Your Path

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