My DC is entering 5th grade this year and we will be looking over our (public) middle school options this fall. Our city has quite a bit in the way of school choice so we will be looking into out of district neighborhood schools, several charter schools and probably some magnet schools. I'd love to hear from those with older children what they feel is most important in a middle school. Thanks!
We looked at a lot of middle schools private and public, charters, magnets, fancy, normal... they all had one major flaw... they were filled with middle school aged kids lol. In the end, we chose to stay with our local middle school in a district that has been very good to us. The local middle school has many excellent teachers and an excellent music program which both my kids love/loved. The school in general had an arts and science focus which was nice because success in those areas could make a kid fairly popular as opposed to just a geek.
I feel the most important thing in middle school is connection. It's a really tough age even for the nicest of kids. They need adults they trust around them and opportunities to really shine in their own particular areas of interest. They need help finding interest-based peers if they haven't already. We looked for a school where the staff was very positive and could see the joys of this age group instead of focusing on the negatives (and sure, there are lots of negatives but who needs to emphasize those?)
As someone whose kids have all skipped the middle school years (homeschooling instead) but who has a pretty close relationship with the tiny local school and is close friends with the teacher who handles that age group, I agree with whatsnextmom. The major pitfalls of schools for this age-group relate to the social milieu and the strength (or lack of strength) of the relationships within them. Personable, energetic, respectful adult teachers and mentors who enjoy this age group, an environment where even the oddball kids can shine and feel valued, opportunities to exercise burgeoning competence with meaningful work in support of community and peers, an atmosphere governed by values of mutual respect and empathy rather than by rules and control. Those are the things I would look for ... and they have little to do with academic performance, school size, test scores, socio-economic demographics, resources, student-teacher ratios or the like.
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
I'm not sure what kind of choice you have and if you are interested in views about the grade structure of the school program as well as the character of the school. My kids have attended an inclusive K to 8 school (although not in the middle school grades), a separate middle school (only 6th, 7th and 8th grades) and a high school that started in 7th grade.
I read recently an article about research that indicates students who attend a K to 8 school, rather than a separate middle school, tend to be more successful in completing high school. IIRC, there are fewer drop-outs and their grades tend to be higher and the students were generally happier. The researchers speculated that students encountered more stress in making 2 transitions - one to middle school and another a couple of years later into high school. There were also advantages to being the older students in a K to 8 cohort that helped with development as they entered adolescence. I'm sorry, but I can't recall where I read this study or any further specifics.
Personally, I think the separate middle school worked well. I found the administration and teaching staff were in tune with the needs and foibles of this age group and better able to respond, unlike in a K to 8 school where the needs of younger students seemed to take precedence. There was a full guidance support and extra-curricular program developed for the kids, rather than sharing resources. I also found that the students enjoyed their separate status, able to feel a little more grown-up with lockers and rotary schedule before entering the full high school experience.
Despite my impressions, I don't have any basis to reject the research that says a K to 8 school is preferable. So if you have that option you may want to consider whether a K to 8 school would suit your family better than a middle school.
Thanks! I'd love to hear more -- this is really helpful and is helping me move one of our small charter schools back to a top choice. Cross post, OOF, the school I'm talking about happens to be a K-8 with a flow into a 9-12. Our other top choice (for now) is a 6-8 with a flow into a 9-19 magnet. Other popular options are an all girls middle, a lovely eco-middle on the water with heavy funding, one of the better neighborhood schools - both would be very traditional schooling, and probably more that I'll earn about in the coming months.
If you have time this year, I recommend attending some events... a band concert, a science competition, whatever. I know for me, one of the things that impressed me about the school my kids attend/attended was the band concert we attended. Half of the school board was represented. Several non-music staff members were there. Their were other students (friends) in the audience being respectful during the music and applauding hugely at the end. The kids handled themselves well on stage and were beaming with pride. It was clear that not only was the school supported but that the other kids were encouraged to support it too. It was actually more telling of the school climate than the tour (which was sort of awful when you haven't been around large groups of middle schoolers in a while!)
We chose a small charter (6-12) for dd1 for this coming year. We figured if it doesn't work out we can always go back to our districted middle school which we also liked. I felt like the smaller environment might be better for dd1 because she has some anxiety issues. If it weren't for her particular quirks I probably would have stuck with the traditional middle because it's closer and offers a lot of options both in classes and in potential to make friends. The small size of the charter is potentially a benefit (more flexibility, everyone knows everyone else) and potentially a drawback (can she make a good friend connection, does the school have as many opportunities as traditional middle?), but in theory this particular charter is right up dd1's alley. It has an environmental and arts focus which are two things she loves. I am still concerned about it, but we'll just see how it plays out. The traditional middle is really great, too. It has strong academics, lots of course options, and a funny principal! All the teachers I met there seemed really nice and dd1 did know some kids going there. She's knows a few going to the charter, but isn't friends with them (two older boys and a girl a year older). The traditional middle is more typically structured and dd1 doesn't do great with too much structure (stresses her out and makes her anxious) so that's another reason the charter sounded like it could work better for her. Part of me really wishes she could do the traditional route and excell, but middle school is so hard and if you don't fit in you're weird and I just felt like there was a lot of potential downfalls with the traditional middle for dd1, too.
For dd2 (3rd grade this year) I will probably let her make the pick unless we have opted out of the charter at that point. She may want to follow her sister to the charter or her friends to the traditional middle and she's the kind of kid that I think could make it fine anywhere.
"All you fascists are bound to lose" — Woody Guthrie
I wanted to update everyone because our school acceptance/decline/waitlist letters will be arriving in a couple of weeks. We have looked at and applied for 11 public schools and one back-up private school.
I don't know what happened to me between pre-k and the early elementary school years (where I moved DC several times and viewed myself as super picky about schools) but I liked every single school we looked at. They all seemed so nice and all of them had their pros and cons.
I'm letting DC take the lead on choice and her first choice is a design based 6-12. For now she says she's willing to wait down the wait list all summer if need be...so that's what we'll do if we have a good spot on the wait list.
She has a second, third, forth choice that are all fairly pie in the sky options because they are all K-8/12 so have very few spaces opening up next year.
We'll get into a sticky situation if she doesn't get her 1-4th choice because we are in disagreement over what should be the 5th choice. DC like to wait for a spot in a neighborhood school as an out of zone student. I think she'll get the spot but we wouldn't know until late August/September. It's also kind of hike in the car. AND, it is a great school but only goes to 8th grade which will have us searching again in three years. I like this all girls leadership 6-12 public charter. It's super strict (but warm and caring) and I think will offer DC a balance to what we can provide her with at home. It's the first choice for a lot of her female classmates. I really hope it doesn't come to having to choose between those two.
And...I REALLY hope it doesn't come to us having to go below our top 5 schools. I'm not sure we can even pay for private and the rest of the schools on the list are not ideal for one reason or another (not that they aren't good schools).
You may find me back on this thread freaking out and asking for help when our letters start arriving later this month.