The middle school program at Red Cedar School provides a socially nurturing and academically rich community for young adolescents. The small and personal nature of Red Cedar, our culture of respect and inclusion, and the emphasis we place on developing each student’s voice, all give our middle school age students strong support for navigating the socially challenging transition from childhood to adolescence.
The middle school academic program is designed to engage students in learning which is interactive and rigorous, help them begin the transition to the greater independence of high school, and start laying the foundation for college. To this end, our program emphasizes personal initiative, complex thinking and communication.
Personal Initiative Students are active partners in their education at Red Cedar. They are encouraged to have questions, ideas and opinions, to pursue interests, to think, create, make choices and decisions. Students are also expected to act responsibly, set goals, follow through on commitments, consider the consequences of their actions, fully engage in their learning, and do their best work in class and homework assignments. Teachers work closely with students to provide the scaffolding and support for developing initiative.
Complex Thinking Woven throughout everything we do is an emphasis on helping students develop the ability to think: to care about ideas, to ask important questions, to take the time to gather information, to analyze deliberately, to substantiate opinions, to consider the ideas of others, to be able to change their point of view in response to new information. Students are regularly asked: What do you think? What are your reasons? What is your evidence? Can you respond to what he/she just said? Classes emphasize ‘big ideas’ and topics that are meaningful.
Communication Speaking, reading and writing are strongly emphasized. Frequent small group discussion in classes helps students refine their ability to express their ideas articulately and to listen carefully to others. Formal oral presentations help students develop confidence and poise in speaking publicly. Debate sharpens students’ use of structured logical thinking and the ability to think on their feet. Informal conversation, laced throughout the day with other students and adults, develops fluency and ease in communicating.
Students of all ages do a great deal of writing at Red Cedar, in many forms and genres. Teachers build on existing strengths, give input and feedback, and celebrate the accomplishments of students. Writing is done for a real purpose and an intended audience, and is always done to extend the development of ideas. Anthologies of student writing are published regularly within the school community.
Students read extensively at Red Cedar. Time is given during the school day for reading and daily reading is required at home. We support students in becoming avid, skilled and discerning readers through an energized school literary culture.
Each group begins the day with a Morning Meeting that focuses on community building and orienting for the day. In middle school, Morning Meeting provides a time for students to talk within the group about themselves, their relationships, the values that are important to them, their leadership role in the school, and issues within the group. We talk about current events, plan for upcoming trips, and play group-building games. Everyone gathers for an All-School Meeting once a week.
Middle school students participate in a math class best suited to their individual level. When students are ready, they take high school algebra. At the pre-algebra level, we work with the Prentice Hall program for concept development, draw on a range of supplementary resources to build skills and fluency, and integrate math and science projects to apply mathematical thinking. At the high school algebra level, we work with the University of Chicago math program.
Through the year, we engage in a series of intensive inquiries in the areas of science and social studies. We integrate academic study and hands-on experiences to inspire curiosity and foster understanding.
In social studies, we focus on historic time periods and themes, current events, citizenship, and social issues. We utilize primary documents, news sources, commentary, literature, film, guest speakers, and field visits. Students explore ideas and communicate their thinking through class discussion, expository writing, research projects, oral presentations, debate, drama and the arts.
In science, middle school students explore topics in the areas of biology, human anatomy, environmental science, earth science, chemistry, physics, and current issues in science. Classes are active in nature and involve students in hands-on lab and fieldwork, experiential projects, content reading, critical examination of controversial issues, writing that develops analytical thinking, participation in scientific research, and service learning projects.
The arts are largely integrated into projects in the content areas. Students draw to heighten observation and express understanding. Various art forms are taught and explored in connection with specific projects. Examples include building hanging wooden bird mobiles, rendering hand drawn maps in a social studies project, creating Rube Goldberg type contraptions while studying physics, or developing a play as part of a language arts project. Workshops in the arts are also offered regularly as part of our Wednesday Workshops. Examples of arts workshops include screen printing, jazz improvisation, mask making, water color painting, and environmental sculpture.
Students explore conversational Spanish and study grammar and vocabulary. We focus as well on Spanish speaking cultures and world issues.
Each younger student in the school is paired with an older student and given support to form a year long relationship. Partners work with each other on projects, read together and play games.
We play sports and games that develop physical stamina and strength, and which encourage cooperation and friendly competition. During the winter months we skate and have games of ice hockey on our ice rink, sled on our hill out back, and ski (downhill, snowboarding, and cross-country) one afternoon a week.
Students choose between participation in a music ensemble group that emphasizes improvisation and musical conversation, and singing in a chorus.
On Wednesday afternoons, all students participate in workshops that typically last about four weeks. Students give input into ideas for the workshops, and choose among workshops for each session. Workshops are offered in the arts, handcrafts and living arts, outdoor adventure, and other experiential learning opportunities. Many workshops take place outside. In the winter, the whole school participates in our ski program on Wednesday afternoons.
Students help to clean and take care of the school, do barn chores including care of the chickens, help maintain the outdoor classroom, and work in the garden. Some of these jobs are included in workshops and projects. Others are attended to at the end of each day. We involve students in care of the school to develop ownership, personal responsibility, respect and stewardship.
Every student is expected to read for a minimum of a half hour each day for homework. We also give middle school students up to an hour combined of math, writing, and project work for social studies or science.
At the end of each trimester, students share their learning with the school community, including other students and their parents. This can take the form of oral presentations, visual displays, multi-media presentations, writing, debate, art and handwork, and the performance of dramatic skits, poetry and dialogues.
For a week during mud-season each year we turn every classroom into an art studio and immerse in the arts. Students choose week-long morning and afternoon workshops to pursue. Recent Arts Week offerings have included improvisational theater, mural painting, chair design, wood carving, the art of South American cooking, pottery, pack-basket weaving, small boats, African drumming, and trumpet.
The middle school group undertakes a 3-day wilderness trip at the start of school each year. Recent trips have included canoeing on the Bog River Flow in the Adirondacks, backpacking in Merck Forest in southern Vermont, and backpacking in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness in the Adirondacks. In the spring we do a multi-day trip focused on culture and history or science. Recent trips have included Washington D.C., New York City, and Cape Cod and Boston.