Middle school matters

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For many young people, middle school is a maelstrom of insecurity and angst. As educators, we have to do everything in our power to nurture our middle school students, to prop them up when they need support and to celebrate their successes when times are good. Only with deliberate action can we ensure that our students survive and thrive during the middle school years.

To this end, here are 9 concrete strategies that every middle school should consider:

Morning:

  1. Begin each day with some form of exercise. Some students will wake up 20 minutes before school starts and their minds may still be asleep. Even a few stretches right after the pledge of allegiance can help students start the day on the right foot.
  2. Start school later! This is more of an issue for high schools, but middle schools should be examining start times as well with a goal of starting at 8 am at the earliest.
  3. Eat well, learn well. In middle school, the cliche definitely holds: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Schools should be teaching students about eating habits that will awaken the mind and sustain energy.

Day:

  1. Give students a structured platform for expressing concerns about school. One option for this would be to create an advisory or homeroom discussion group that meets monthly outside of the regular school schedule.
  2. The mind does matter. Provide mindfulness training for students and teachers. The study is in and meditation and other mindfulness techniques produce real improvements in student performance.
  3. Protect/expand time for recess. Students need an outdoor (when weather allows) breather than will allow their minds and bodies to reset. Schedule is packed? Consider strolling lunches where students are allowed to leave the lunchroom for supervised outdoor play when they are done eating.

Night:

  1. Use homework strategically. Provide a framework that ensures an appropriate amount of homework. This may involve assigning subject areas specific nights or rotating major projects by term.
  2. Take steps to prevent online bullying. Trust me, if your school is not looking at online bullying, it is happening. Create an anonymous platform for reporting bullying and make sure parents are aware of the problem – and how to prevent/address it.
  3. Emphasize experiential learning in your curricula. Enable students to see that finding answers does not always mean turning on the computer. Do science by collecting data outside, read poetry to the sky, calculate angles of roads and streams etc.
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