I am always asking myself, our faculty, and families the same question: How can we best support our children as they grow and become their best selves? How can we guide them as they navigate competing social and academic pressures?
As is often the answer, it takes a village. Students benefit when parents and teachers work in partnership, but there is another often overlooked influence on younger students—older students.
As the Head of Middle School I can (and do) give a lot of advice and many times, students listen. But get an Upper School (9-12th grade) student to deliver a message and the entire Middle School (5th-8th) is all ears.
Looking up to “big kids” is natural—think of an adored older sibling or a favorite babysitter. Because St. Luke’s is a 5-12 school, we can leverage this relationship by intentionally connecting our older and younger students in a way that benefits all.
We see this at play in the drama program. Our theater tech group is for 7th grade and up because of the level of responsibility required to use tools and build sets. Older tech students work with Middle Schoolers to develop their skills so that one day the younger kids get more responsibility and independence, and the older kids deepen their own understanding by teaching. This symbiosis continues onstage as highlighted this year in our inaugural All-School Musical where performers of all ages collaborated.
Another rich environment for multi-age interaction is our designLab. Here’s this big, beautiful fabrication space buzzing with students. There may be two classes at the same time as well as students working independently on special projects. Some of the tools are advanced and for Upper School use only. This makes the setting aspirational—little kids looking up to big kids, watching what they do and imagining the next-level projects they’ll create one day. The space is filled with the artifacts of students at all levels, which cultivates respect for all ideas from US to MS and MS to US. designLab Director Michael Mitchell runs the St. Luke's Hackathon another multigrade experience and chance to learn from one another.
Then there is the rich opportunity to teach sportsmanship. Varsity athletes take turns going to Middle School practice in the free time before their own practice begins. It’s a small thing but so exciting for the younger kids to be watched and coached by Upper School athletes. I remember one Middle School soccer player who was feeling insecure about being the goalie. For half a practice, the varsity goalie worked with the young goalie practicing when to dive, when to nod and when to stay or leave the box. Both students came away with more confidence and a new friendship.
Even our fifth graders, who have their own dedicated space and less contact with the Upper School, are beyond excited when it’s time for our Pep Rally or other all-school assemblies. Middle Schoolers feel part of something important and larger than themselves. It’s really something to see a sixth-grade girl belting out a song next to a senior playing saxophone in Blues Band.
I’ve worked in different schools with different structures which helps illuminate the many benefits of St. Luke’s composition. Above all else, it gives our young students a true sense of the wonderful journey ahead.
Read more...Three Ways Schools Can Build Confidence
Parenting Teens: Anybody Have a Map?
Letting 5th-Grade Minds Run WildParent Perspective: The Private School Experience
St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.
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