Where Did “Middle School” Go? If you have a young teenager at home, you likely can answer that question better than I can. When I took this job five years ago, my own teenagers gave me the best advice I ever received as an educator: “Mom, just treat the students like they are big.”
I think my children were correct.
By the time students reach 7th and 8th grade, they crave independence. They want the privilege of owning certain areas of their lives and no longer want to be treated like elementary students. Being made to walk down the halls in a line, or feeling monitored by authoritative faculty, just gets under their skin. At CHCA, we want to meet students at this place and give them the independence and ownership they crave. They want to spread their wings, and when given the opportunity to do so, we learn they are capable of so much.
“See the light in others, and treat them as though that is all you see.” -Dr. Wayne Dyer
With this in mind, we treat our 7-8 students like our 9-12 students as much as possible. As Upper School Gr 7-12 Principal Dr. Dean Nicholas regularly says, “we believe this school is the students’ school – not the teachers’, not the administrators’, but the students’.” If we give them some healthy ownership, they grab on to it and do some pretty remarkable things.
One of the first ways we brought this to life in an Upper School model was to revive Student Government for grades 7-8. Students, elected by their peers, meet regularly to plan socials, spirit competitions, service projects, and communicate student concerns to administration. They have created fundraisers for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through partnering with their teachers to carry out “dares” for the cause. They spearheaded a “Be Awesome” campaign which encouraged students in unique ways such as sitting with someone new or looking for ways to support a team. They recently peppered our school carpool line with original, creative yard signs filled with positive messages like “BE U” and “You are loved". We have been amazed at what 7th and 8th graders can accomplish when given ownership and opportunities.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” -Albert Einstein
A second example of taking student-led initiative to the next level is the engagement in our entrepreneurial program. Our high school has a thriving entrepreneurial business program, anchored by the student-run Leaning Eagle Coffee Bar. A few years ago, a 7th grade student asked me, “Mrs. Metzger, why can’t we have our own coffee bar here for grades 7-8?” My response - “Why not?” Shortly after, our own Mini-Cup student-run coffee bar began!
Until last year, the Mini-Cup opened once every three weeks and we bought our products from the Leaning Eagle. I was hesitant for our students to tackle much more; however, over time they proved me wrong! Our Mini-Cup group has grown to over thirty students and is run by student managers filled with initiative and creative ideas. We now have our own brewing equipment and are no longer solely dependent on the Leaning Eagle. The students create a weekly schedule, choose the menu, and are environmentally conscious, ordering re-useable acrylic cups for students and gifting mugs for our faculty to fill up for 50 cents. The redesigned coffee bar space proudly sports the new logos they designed and is more inviting for customers. Most impressive, profits are reinvested regularly into our school to help fellow students pay for Service Intersession experiences requiring travel, or redecorating the Faculty Lounge. This group has far exceeded our expectations, and they are preparing well for grades 9-12 and the "real world".
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” -Abraham Lincoln
A third example of how we bring increased student ownership to life is how we approach student life in grades 7-8 during the school-day. We have intentional approaches, times, and spaces where students can experience the freedom they crave, and the mental breaks many need. Our no uniform policy lets students express their individual personality by choosing appropriate clothing within prescribed guidelines and while still under parental influence. You may see our Media class students filming clips for an upcoming broadcast or web site feature. Some students may be working with faculty on music for an upcoming chapel or gathered in the conference room praying through prayer requests from classmates.
During lunch, you will see much more than students eating. You will see club meetings (many student-created) such as the Military Cohort, Spanish Club, Power of the Pen, Roller-Coaster Club, or Math Counts or our annual Ping Pong Tournament in full swing. And contrary to the majority of middle schools and junior highs, you will see students PLAY. It may be basketball in the gym or football on the side field, "nine square in the air,” or “gaga ball" on the back playground. Lunch and recess run a full 40 minutes for students to socialize and burn some energy. They are free to move throughout several atrium and outside areas and choose how to spend that time.
Similarly, the day ends with a period called “SDL” or Student-Directed Learning. Teachers are available to give help with assignments or test review. Students get a head start on homework before after-school activities or can head to collaboration spaces for group work or tutoring. Alternatively, they can choose to mentally “re-group” from the day by drawing, playing a game, or listening to music. We believe one of the most important skills students need as they progress through high school and into college is learning to effectively manage their free time.
And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. – 2 Thessalonians 3:13
In the end, I believe we have created a culture where 7th and 8th graders experience the freedom and responsibility they crave at this age. They begin to learn how to truly lead groups and experience the fruits of their labors. I am proud of what the students have accomplished and the space that has been given to them to dream big!
Want to hear from the students themselves? Current Gr 7-8 students in the 1st Bell Multimedia class answer "What is different about CHCA Gr 7-8?"
About the Author
Holly Metzger is the Assistant Principal for Grades 7-8 in the CHCA Upper School. She has been at CHCA over 25 years and loved teaching high school history before beginning her current work. She is passionate about empowering students to lead, especially through the Student Government and National Junior Honor Society programs. She loves the outdoors and entertaining and is a lifetime Cincinnatian who lives in Mason with her husband and three children.