I’m turning 19 years old here in a few days and serving in the United States Marine Corps in North Carolina. Though I’m gone and graduated, I frequently think about the relationships and adventures I had during my time in middle school. Let’s be honest, WSM middle school is the part everyone looks forward to most in their Montessori career; at least I know I did!
I had the pleasure of having Mary Brandon as my social studies and language arts teacher for seventh and eighth grade, and what a pleasure it was. Mary was the one who sparked my interest in social studies and history. In high school, I went on to take AP social studies classes for all four years. Though at Northview I was a freshman in mostly junior and senior classes, the studying and annotating habits I’ve retained from countless hours of help and effort from my peers and teachers at WSM set me apart from the rest of the kids.
There’s not enough time in the day to go on about all of the academic attributes I acquired from my time in middle school, so I’ll narrow it down to three key points I think are the most meaningful. The first is the ever-helpful skill of annotating and deeply comprehending texts. In high school, most of my English homework was reading assigned chapters of a book, taking notes on it, and turning in an essay or paper based on a prompt from the text we read. Thanks to Mary being so passionate about the books and work she assigned us, I had not only gotten a jumpstart on doing very similar assignments in middle school, but I had also read a good portion of the books I would go on to read in my high school classes. A few of my favorites from WSM are Moon Over Manifest and 1984, a classic by George Orwell.
The thing I miss most about WSM is the work that correlated to the books we read. Making interactive projects and taking creative initiative on assignments is nothing short of an intangible and ever-so-valuable skill: higher education teachers truly appreciate projects that go above and beyond the requirements when they have 100+ of the same assignments to grade. And that’s what WSM middle school produces—students that always go above and beyond because it’s our very nature.
The second valuable skill I took from my time spent in middle school is the study habits I’ve formed. Everyone has to study, but very few know how to get the most out of a little work. There’s a huge difference between just studying and effective studying and, thanks to Mary, I only studied for a handful of tests my whole high school career. Going hand-in-hand with annotating and analyzing, most of my homework and test material came straight out of a textbook. Though most answers are right there in front of you in black and white, higher level and AP classes will have you evolve and dive deeper into already established principles, forcing you to make inferences and defend points of your own creation.
Something I love about WSM middle school is the homework and material is not just assigned, but there’s an explanation of WHY it was assigned. You’ll come to find pretty much the rest of your life is half busy work and half essential work. However, I genuinely enjoyed the assignments during my middle school time. Looking back since the majority of my schooling is now over, I really was blessed to have been passionate about the work I was doing and turning in.
Saving the best for last, my third favorite part of West Side middle school is the memories and experiences. It may sound cliche and cheesy, but I truly made friends for life—every day in class and through the trips and experiences we took as a class. A fan favorite (and my personal favorite) is ACE adventure camp, of course, with our biological and ecological-based study trip to North Carolina being a close second. I promise you, only through a Montessori education can one sit down on a warm, sandy beach on the coast of Carolina and have class.
The laughs, memories, and team building is something you simply cannot find anywhere else, and more importantly, I have it for life. I played soccer and Xbox with 4 of my best friends all throughout high school, and we still talk and get together on occasion. For myself being in the Marine Corps, the brotherhood and bonds I have here are comparable to those at West Side, and those are very hard and lengthy relationships to cultivate and keep. I use the life lessons, skills, and qualities as a person and citizen I learned at West Side every single day of my life; and if I get the opportunity to, I will send my kids in a heartbeat.
I hope this short piece of writing conveys to you all some sort of the importance and meaning that my middle school experience is to me. I hope to see you all soon! Have fun, be smart, and stay safe.
Private First Class Donovan Elder
The United States Marine Corps
Read more about the Better Method and Amazing Outcomes of West Side's exceptional Middle School Program at montessoritoledo.org/testimonials