Middle School

Don't Muddle in the Middle

John Suitor, Head of School
The middle school years are arguably the most important years in a child’s education. The combination of changing bodies, developing minds, and complex social dynamics create a vortex of possibilities where children – if not led, supported, challenged, and inspired – can quickly become invisible, their growth held back due to missed opportunities or misplaced intention.

In the most ideal circumstances middle schools aren’t in the middle at all. Rather, middle school students are “top dogs,” the oldest and most respected members of their student community. One of the reasons I believe so strongly in BCD’s PS – 8th grade model is that our oldest students become the natural leaders of our school. They are athletes, members of student council, leaders in their Bulldog Families (comprising one student from each grade, PS – 8th), and mentors. They develop a sense of responsibility for our school culture, uninfluenced by the high school milieu, which creates more reflective, thoughtful, and grounded human beings.

To be sure there are times when the not fully developed frontal lobe of a middle school student’s brain gets in the way of what we would think of as a reasoned decision. That’s OK. They make mistakes just like we do. In the hands of a highly competent faculty and staff, middle schoolers who make mistakes emerge stronger and more fortified for later years when the stakes are higher and the consequences greater.

The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP) bolsters student academic and social-emotional growth. Its focus on international mindedness helps our students understand the world is bigger than the “Boulder Bubble” and more complex than it might first appear. The best example of the impact of the MYP that I know is to ask the following question: How much time do teens spend online every day? Often folks respond with 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours. Maybe…if you are only thinking about U.S. teenagers. The real answer is approximately 60% of teens across the world don’t have any access at all. Opening the perspective of our pre-teens and teens is frequently enough for them to know they are part of a much larger global picture, part of something much larger than themselves. 

Schools like BCD with small class sizes, caring and committed faculty, and focus on self advocacy help create high schoolers who are eager to excel. They sit at the front of the class, they ask questions, and, having learned how to learn, they produce outstanding educational outcomes. Among our recent graduates, 80% made their high school’s honor roll, over 90% participated in high school athletics, and 60% participated in meaningful community service above and beyond what their schools require. Colleges and universities often claim their incoming classes lack proficiency in writing and BCD is bucking that trend. Our middle schoolers outperform their peers in suburban public school districts and other independent schools on the WrAP, one of the most competitive writing assessments in the nation.
Ultimately, middle school students are best served at schools where nurture (love), structure (limits), and latitude (the ability to roam within those limits) carry the day, where middle school students shine as the top dogs, and where they are known and valued for exactly who they are. Whatever you choose for them, avoid the “muddle in the middle” at all costs. It’s sure to be worth the investment.

Author – John Suitor, Head of School

Boulder Country Day School    4820 Nautilus Court North • Boulder, Colorado 80301 • Phone - 303.527.4931 •
Boulder Country Day School, where academic distinction meets education with character. BCD is a top rated, accredited private school in Boulder, Colorado where every child has the opportunity to discover their own unique excellence. Distinguished by small class sizes, outstanding faculty, engaging academics and a focus on community, our preschool, elementary and IB middle school teachers strive to create a well-rounded educational environment that balances traditional subjects with the arts, world languages, athletics and knowledge based units.