Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic 3: Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate.
The Advisory Program at Community School emphasizes and supports academic and social/emotional development. Students meet with their advisor four times a week and are given opportunities to check in with their hearts, minds, and bodies, to reflect on their needs or challenges, and set appropriate goals for themselves during the year. Students stay with their advisor throughout their time in middle school. Examples of advisory activities include pairing up with a middle elementary class to read together during an advisee time. And, a new tradition for advisee groups– a family recipe cookie swap!
What This Looks Like In Practice: We have five advisee groups, each with its own animal mascot. During our advisee meetings, we give students time to share personal updates, talk through concerns or worries, work on homework, or connect with peers for help with academic and social/emotional topics. Sometimes we use these periods to have fun; we play games together, compete against other advisee groups, create routines and traditions, or host special small group events (last year, two of our advisee groups got together for a holiday cookie exchange). Over the course of their time in middle school, advisors have time to develop relationships with families and can support their students through the challenges of adolescence. We meet for regular conferences throughout the school year, setting goals together as a team.
Characteristic 7: The school collaborates with community and business partners.
Our mission states that “We strive to nurture brave, good and curious citizens…”
We want our students to recognize that they are part of a larger community and find many ways for them to connect with educational resources, including businesses, non-profits, and cultural centers. In addition, students are able to be involved with service learning on and off campus. Currently, middle school students are beginning to work with a local artist to participate in a global art project related to empathy, peace and inclusiveness.
What This Looks Like In Practice: We often invite guest speakers from across our valley to speak on relevant topics; this allows students to learn from a variety of perspectives. As often as possible, we try to take students off campus to work with organizations and businesses; Friday Groups are a time when this is easier to coordinate.
Characteristic 9: Curriculum is exploratory, integrative, and diverse.
Community School’s unique elective program provides in-depth, hands-on explorations of a range of subjects that typically extend all day each Friday for 5 to 6 weeks. This time allows for field trips, guest speakers, community service projects and productions. Topics range from field biology, playwriting, robotics, and model United Nations simulations to Appalachian music studies, Shakespeare, outdoor adventure, and studio art.
Characteristic 11: Instruction fosters learning that is active, purposeful and democratic.
Community School believes that students should be fully engaged and at the center of the learning process. Project-based learning which stresses cooperative problem-solving and critical thinking skills promotes a climate that empowers students to ask questions, consider different points of view and take responsibility for their research. Student groups often must work together to present their final results to a class, a different level at school or to families and staff. As one example, during our unit on pre-Columbian North America students learned about the tribes across the continent. One student spent extra time researching the tribes who lived on the land where our school is located and created an art piece to display on campus.
Characteristic 16: Leaders demonstrate courage and collaboration.
Staff is encouraged to be innovative and creative in addressing student needs. They are invited to give input to address challenges and assist with the redesign of schedules or change practices that are no longer meeting students’ best interests. Our advisory program has adjusted its focus over the last five years to be more responsive to current concerns and social dynamics. This year we will be introducing an Ambassador Program to welcome visiting students and to facilitate the transition for new students.