Message from the Principal, Jennifer Cox
The junior high years – in Paideia’s case, the seventh and eighth grades – are sometimes considered the most difficult, challenging, and fascinating time of one’s life. Physical, intellectual, and emotional changes are rapid and intense. Students feel that they are no longer mere children, but while they’re eager for the greater freedom and responsibility of teenage life, they’re also apprehensive about the social conflicts and increased academic pressures that lie ahead, and they’re filled with self-doubt. They constantly try out new roles for themselves. They might seek to distance themselves from their parents, but they still need and want the support and guidance of the key adults in their lives.
This age of transition has typically been difficult for schools to handle. Skills and maturity vary widely at this age. Within one class, students who can think and write at a high school or even college level sit next to others who are still fairly young intellectually. Even within individual kids there can be wide fluctuations. A seventh or eighth grader can behave like a 16-year-old one day and like a ten-year-old the next. To deal with all these competing factors, most studies have recommended smaller, more flexible schools, more individual attention and guidance from teachers, and more opportunities for reflection and self-expression.
We have developed a program at Paideia we think is especially suited to deal with the needs and opportunities of early adolescence. It combines close and sustained contact and support from teachers with independence, individual responsibility, and a range of choices. It demands a lot from students, but does so in relaxed surroundings in which they can feel supported. Classrooms are openly arranged with sofas, tables, and chairs. This informal atmosphere is especially valuable for junior high kids, for whom a certain degree of fidgeting and sprawling is as inevitable as breathing. They need lots of elbow and knee room, and they were never intended to sit in desks for hours on end. Teachers are called by their first names, and they get to know their students very well. Kids still know who’s in charge, and they know that calling teachers Bonnie or Tony does not make them the adult’s peer or make assignments and expectations any less serious. Academic and interpersonal skills are nourished within a creative curriculum designed to develop self-awareness, expression, and empathy. And it’s presided over by teachers who genuinely enjoy and appreciate children this age.
The teachers, more than any other variable, set the tone and atmosphere of the school day. One of Paideia’s guiding principles has been to find experienced, talented, and innovative teachers and then give them room to teach. Their classes are a reflection of their styles and enthusiasms, but they all share three things: they enjoy being around children this age, they believe they can make a positive impact on the lives of students, and they have a sense of humor that allows them to roll with the moment.
We want our students to emerge from junior high confident, generous, accomplished, and ready for the world of high school. We know they will struggle and there will be challenging moments. But as long as they learn from their mistakes, deal with some self-doubts, and make breakthroughs now, then we have accomplished what we set out to do.
We could design a junior high much simpler than the one we have. Scheduling would certainly be easier. We believe our format of homebase class time and departmentalized subject areas is more appropriate to the intellectual, emotional, and developmental needs of students this age. We also think it allows for greater creativity and individualization, a more personal as well as a more challenging way for children to learn. In addition, such a complex mix of independence and guidance, homebases and specialists, high demands and informal atmosphere, is ultimately a fitting reflection of this dynamic, transitional age group.
Junior High Principal
Over the course of their junior high years, there are skills and intangible strengths that we want students to develop and practice.
We want them to be able to
- Organize and discipline themselves to get things done
- Express ideas clearly and fully, in writing and speaking
- Think critically and deeply about a variety of subjects
- Learn and absorb new ideas and information
- Approach and solve problems in a systematic way
We want them to develop
- Self-awareness and honesty
- The ability to stand up for themselves and their emerging beliefs
- Enthusiasm for learning and trying new things
- The ability to get along well with peers and adults
- A sense of humor
- Their own voice
- An appreciation of their own unique value, as well as the value of other people who impact their lives
- An ethical approach to living
- An appreciation of the importance of every day