We have had two children in Middle School at West Side (one is an eighth-grader now). Everything West Side does from Little House through sixth grade is building to make Middle School the crowning glory of students’ experience. Middle School has engaged both our (very-different-from-each-other) children deeply in a broad range of subjects across the curriculum.
The academics are stellar, and our children have had opportunities for both leadership and followership. The work ethic and study skills our older child developed in Middle School made graduating from a rigorous high school relatively easy; in some ways, we feel that Middle School prepared her for her first semester of college (now just completed) better than high school did. She developed the independence to thrive as well as the confidence to ask questions in college classes and go to professors’ office hours for help.
Typically, younger kids at West Side look up to the Middle Schoolers, and for good reason. They are generally kind to their classmates and younger children; mature; and poised, even when interacting with adults they don’t know—a skill that eludes many teenagers! We wanted our children to experience being the leaders of the school. We saw them both blossom in Middle School, taking their top position at West Side quite seriously.
The teachers and the creative curriculum make Middle School outstanding. When I asked our eighth-grader what Upper Elementary parents should know about Middle School, she had a lot to say. She’s happy she can talk to her teachers if she has problems. (They do know her well.) She also says the big projects, simulations, and presentations are exciting. Group projects have helped her work with others, and she likes learning about subjects like history in non-conventional ways. Projects allow her to demonstrate skills and knowledge instead of just taking tests all the time. She likes that with projects, students typically have a choice among options, so they can research something they’re interested in.
Our eighth-grader says she appreciates the many hands-on activities in Middle School, and that the teachers connect the school subjects to each other. She is enjoying preparations for the mock trial and the CSI simulation. Other favorites were Immigration Day and the unit on the Roaring ’20s. She also likes the “intersessions,” when students focus for the whole week on a single topic. In her last intersession, she learned about Mount Everest, and students who chose the topic of spies learned about world history and the Cold War. She also enjoys Power of the Pen, noting that in most schools, only a small portion of students would be able to participate while at West Side, the whole class does. She described Power of the Pen as “fun writing practice.” The recent addition of Outdoor Ed has also been extremely engaging for our eighth-grader and her classmates.
Our eighth-grader also says that for almost every subject—and perhaps most importantly for math—the teachers know everyone’s level, and students can go up a level if appropriate, or go down a level—or get extra help to stay in their current level. All this happens without stigma.
Our child also praised the atmosphere among her classmates, describing it as supportive. She says if you have a bad test score, one of your classmates will explain to you how you got it wrong, without looking down on you. She even said that she liked the mock exam week that students recently had because she knows it prepared her to study for many exams all at once, which she knows she’ll have to do in the future.
I texted our college child and asked her for one thing Upper El parents should know. She texted me back the following immediately (She doesn’t always text me back immediately!): “The bond with classmates strengthens even more, the trips are fun because of the small groups, and kids get a say in what activities they are most interested in doing on the trips. The teachers are amazing and listen to the students and help them with what they need even more because there are less kids than in Upper El.”
Our advice is, if you can, give your child the gift of Middle School at West Side.
Read more about the Better Method and Amazing Outcomes of West Side's exceptional Middle School Program at montessoritoledo.org/testimonials