According to Katherine Roboff, Executive Director of the nonprofit Higher Achievement (The Washington Post, Opinions, September 29, 2014) “research demonstrates that eighth-graders’ academic achievement has a greater impact on their college and career readiness than anything that happens academically in high school.” At Westminster, we agree that the years between five and fourteen are the most important ones in the education of a child. Those are the years of greatest transformation—physically, intellectually, socially—so it makes sense that, during these formative years, what a child experiences and learns becomes a part of who s/he is. What happens in elementary and middle school, when a child grows from toddler-hood to the brink of adulthood, literally shapes the person s/he becomes.
In 2008, Jay Matthews, education columnist for The Washington Post) expressed the following opinions about the middle-school years: “Children that age are just too difficult to teach” and “There are no good middle schools.” What a superficial, careless piece of advice to give concerned parents who are hoping to find the best middle school for their child!
In contrast to Mr. Matthews’ jaded opinion, Westminster understands that the middle-school years of 12 to 14 are critical to a child’s future. This is the age when children feel a natural, developmentally healthy urge toward independence from their parents and a correspondingly greater concern with what their peers are thinking and doing, all whipped up into a compelling froth by powerful messages from the media. During adolescence, too, many children become so self-conscious that all they want to do is blend in with the crowd and protect themselves from unwanted attention. This mixture of powerful influences can lead youngsters away from the beneficial guidance and oversight of their parents and teachers just when they need them the most. They may be more susceptible to negative influences from peers and media, or develop a cynical attitude toward wholesome activities and social interactions. Westminster’s program for middle-school students has been carefully designed to counter these negative energies and teach youngsters a better way to shape their identities and handle life’s challenges and opportunities.
In addition to a well-rounded, in-depth academic program that keeps middle-school students intellectually engaged, many special activities at Westminster are designed to boost their confidence, build skills and a sense of competency, facilitate bonding and friendship, and have lots of fun while interacting with peers and adults in a positive, wholesome way. Students develop poise, confidence, and charm in drama and enrichment classes. Athletics and an abundance of extracurricular clubs, camps, and classes provide opportunities for special interests and making friends. School customs and special events call on the students to made good manners a part of every-day life. Dance classes and dance parties give boys and girls a life-long, valuable social skill and help them feel more comfortable with one another and with their bodies during this famously awkward phase.
So, at a time when many adolescents metaphorically duck their heads and slink down a dark alley, Westminster students are guided into the light of their more confident and optimistic selves. Click here to learn more about Westminster’s outstanding program for middle-school aged children (the “upper school” at Westminster School).