Middle School Signature Experience
Montessori philosophy emphasizes the idea that physical work and a connection to nature help adolescents discover their strengths and capabilities. This tenet — paired with our belief that a sense of belonging is essential for an individual’s optimal achievement and our desire to foster personal growth and self-understanding in our students — is the catalyst for our annual Middle School Outdoor Education trip. The experience gives Middle School students the opportunity to establish a strong sense of community, to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors together, and to push themselves outside of their comfort zones as individuals and as a group.
One of the highlights of the 8th grade year at WMS is The Expert Project, a long-term research project that demands dedication, organization, patience and hard work. The Expert Project is an opportunity for students to pull all of their academic skills together to complete one final research paper and present on a topic that is important to them.
WMS students complete one-week internships in the fall of their 8th grade year so that they may begin to pursue real-life work that is meaningful to them. The program allows our students to apply what they’ve learned about themselves — individually and as members of a community — to the world around them in a very tangible way.
The Hero’s Journey is a rite of passage for our 7th-graders. The project is based on “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a seminal work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell. A well-known quotation from the book’s introduction summarizes the universal journey of heroes. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” The Hero’s Journey curriculum at WMS views the changes that take place during adolescence (when children embark on the path to adulthood) as such a journey. The Hero’s Journey curriculum includes a study of ethical systems and an exploration of the media and its power. Other topics include: friendship, decision-making, conflict resolution, communication skills, leadership, group identity, accepting differences, and reproduction and pregnancy. The symbolism of the Hero’s Journey, the public presentation of the initiate, and the achievement of a challenging personal goal all serve to give the adolescent a sense of the significance and nobility of his or her own personal journey.
Community service helps change our children from passive recipients to active service providers. Through service, children have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills and make a positive contribution, expanding their understanding of the world and how it works, and giving them the opportunity to connect with people who are different. In the process of working toward a common goal, students engage in meaningful dialogue and develop trust and respect for each other. These experiences help our students understand that they have the power to make a difference and to do something to change their world. Community Service is woven into the MS curriculum, from daily jobs within the classrooms to larger off-campus projects. Students develop empathy, humility and leadership skills during their time spent serving others.
Within the larger Middle School community are Advisor Groups, each led by an Advisor and made up of students from 6th, 7th and 8th grades. While students do get individual help with academic organization from their Advisors, Advisor Group is less focused on academic concerns and more on understanding the individual responsibilities and rewards that are part of being a member of our Middle School. Advisor Groups meet once a day and also gather together for lunch. There is time set aside for community meetings, with a focus on group problem solving and personal reflection.
Life Worth Living
Advisor Groups engage with the Life Worth Living program. All through history, the world’s philosophers, artists, and religious leaders have wrestled with the big questions of human existence: What does it mean to belong? How do we live ethical lives? What makes a life worth living? In our advisor groups, students explore these issues following a curriculum derived from Yale’s popular course “A Life Worth Living.” Through readings from great thinkers and artists, films, discussions, journaling, and projects, our students ask themselves and each other these questions. The curriculum is flexible enough to allow students to delve deeper into issues that interest or inspire them. Once or twice each unit, all of the advisor groups join to share their thoughts and respond to new topics and areas of exploration.
Community Meetings provide valuable practice for becoming responsible, respectful and resourceful members of a community. Taking place in classrooms Lower School and up, Community Meetings help students of all ages recognize and respect differing perspectives, develop the ability to work through problems, and to realize their own significance within a community.
Promoting fellowship and responsibility among a wider range of ages, the Partner Class Program is a long-standing tradition at WMS that enhances the benefits of mixed-age classrooms. The program pairs Lower School classes with Upper Elementary classes and Lower Elementary classes with Middle School classes. The Partner Class program helps establish a sense of community within the different ages of students.
Montessori Middle School programs are marked by an emphasis on student choice, agency, and involvement. Adolescents are at a key age to exercise the mental muscles involved in planning, working effectively in groups, and engaging in authentic tasks that have a significance beyond the four walls of the classroom. While these goals have long been built into our curriculum and school structure, “Immersion Fridays” offer students the opportunity to engage in long-term projects, student-led businesses, and service activities that incorporate and apply what they have been doing in their academic classes. These experiences vary according to the time of year and interests of the students. They involve different groupings, and are designed to enhance the regular academic curriculum. 8th-year students continue to have their intensive writing workshop in addition to other immersion options.