March 23, 2011 by jbrettjacobsen
In the midst of The Year of Design at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, I want to share with you an exciting opportunity.
Preparing for the 2011-2012 school year, in August Mount Vernon will launch a new Middle School model including grades 5-8. Since my arrival in June 2009, I have had the opportunity to survey the landscape and take a full assessment of our programs, structure of each division, and use of facility space. In addition, dialoguing with parents, students, and teachers during the last two years as well as receiving feedback through the strategic planning process has highlighted a strong need to transition to a model intensely focused on the unique academic, developmental, social, physical, and spiritual needs of young adolescents. Researching best practice throughout the country and having prior experience implementing this type of model for grades 5-8, I want to address some compelling components of focus to the program.
Through the objectives of the strategic plan to blend the richness of traditional education with the innovation of 21st century learning, the School, during the next five years, will utilize academic principles established by David Perkins at Harvard’s School of Education – 1) generative knowledge where schools must examine what disciplinary and interdisciplinary content will most benefit students; 2) learnable intelligence where the integration of teaching higher order thinking into subject matter instruction can have significant effects on students; 3) focus on understanding where student work demonstrates deep understanding in contrast to narrowly defined outcomes; 4) teaching for mastery and transfer; 5) learning- centered assessment where at its best functions as reflective and evaluative tool for learning; 6) embracing complexity where deep understanding requires students to deal with and even thrive on complex situations; and 7) the school as a learning organization where the pursuit of intellectual interests and professional collaborations are supported and encouraged.
As a result, meeting the 21st century academic needs of this age group of students will require the appropriate configuration of faculty, administrators, and academic resource specialists to fulfill our commitment to the “whole child.” This model encompassing grades 5-8 will build a stronger bridge from early childhood to adolescence and facilitate a smoother transition from the Middle School to the rigorous MVPS Upper School program. Increased attention on vertical collaboration on curriculum, ERB standardized testing, technology, 21st century skills, and innovation will raise the standard, strengthen our academic program, and provide a greater identity to the Middle School at Mount Vernon.
Developmentally, this age group of students is experiencing rapid changes physically, emotionally, and psychologically. As an expert of early adolescence aptly articulated, “It is very difficult for some youngsters to be caught in the no-man’s land between their chronological age and their physical age, trying to keep their social age, their academic age, and their personality age in conformity with their chronological age.” Contributing to this, images on television, the Internet, and print media continue to advance children into adulthood faster and faster than they should. Being cognizant of natural developmental changes and the impact of societal changes, the Middle School model will not attempt to advance our students socially. Therefore, promoting a healthy development of young adolescents requires the School, partnering with you, to provide the best possible support system intensely focused on these formative years.
Most importantly, the spiritual growth of students is a high priority for the School. Currently, students in grades 5-6 attend chapel with K-4 students. While they are great role models for younger students, it is challenging to build programs and appropriate themes/messages to cover such a widespread of grades. In addition to chapel, the Christian education program will remain committed to providing an environment where students are encouraged to develop their own personal faith and spirituality, to respect the unique value of each member of the school community, and to live their lives with wisdom and moral integrity. By combining our energies, ideas and resources, we are creating a partnership of excellence – an excellence born of the understanding that knowledge alone cannot sufficiently prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century. Instead, we must offer them wisdom that only comes from God. As Christ did, may our students increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).