MS Head's Blog
In the Middle of It All
Middle School Musings by Trevor O’Driscoll, Bancroft's Head of Middle School
Most weeks, MS Head Trevor O’Driscoll writes a short note to parents and faculty about middle school, education, parenting, and other topics relevant to our community. We share these Middle School Musings here for the benefit and enjoyment of all who are interested. Read recent entries, browse the archives, and delight in Mr. O’Driscoll’s take on our Middle School and the amazing people who inhabit it.
A guest post by Dominic Dipersia
Dominic serves as Bancroft’s substitute coordinator, student activities communications liaison, and MS soccer coach. He was also one of the chaperones on the 7th Grade AMC Retreat in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Aug. 31-Sept 1, 2016. Here, he shares his insider's view of the true value of this annual seventh grade rite of passage.
As the seventh grade students tilted their heads all the way back to look up at the peaks of their respective mountain trails, their eyes grew wider with both excitement and trepidation. Most of the students on the AMC Retreat had never hiked anything before, let alone a 4,000-foot mountain. With their backpacks as big as their bodies strapped on tight, they pushed forward and began their uphill climb, a challenge that tested them both physically and mentally.
On a hike filled with stunning views, sharp corners, fallen trees, rocky paths, and even some rain, the groups of students and teachers worked their way up to their community huts in which we stayed for two nights. Sleeping on triple-deck bunk beds with not much more than a sheet, a light sleeping bag, a blanket and a pillow was in keeping with the “roughing it” nature of the experience; no memory foam mattresses here.
In many ways the experience, organized by a dedicated team of teachers, served as a microcosm for this school year. Teachers want their students to challenge themselves, both in and out of the classroom. The idea that they can climb a mountain on their second day of school should give them the confidence to get through any obstacle that comes their way inside, and outside of the classroom this year and beyond.
“It’s amazing how small you can feel compared to the whole world.”
As our group of ambitious climbers ascended to the top of Cannon Mountain on our second day, the tallest peak we climbed during the retreat (4,100 ft.), their confidence grew with each step they took. For most of the students on this trip, this test seemed impossible at first. Yet when it was all said and done, the students had accomplished a three-day hike up and down the mountain, a goal accomplished through individual grit and the support of peers. They took the challenge head-on and masterfully became a stronger group of students because of it.
Much like the challenging trails and exhausting inclines they endured, there will be tough times in the school year where students may think they couldn’t possibly rise to the occasion. With some help from their teachers and classmates along the way, they will see that reaching the peak of their seventh grade experience isn’t as daunting as it may appear.
This past week the halls of Middle School were filled with excitement, nervousness, joy, and the energy that comes with imagining all the untold possibilities of the school year that has begun to unfold.
Before we settled into the more typical rhythms of the year, all of our students ventured out into the world to connect with their peers and teachers beyond the classroom walls. And of course our seventh grade spent three days in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. This trip prompted my favorite parent email of the week, from a mom who sent her son off for the adventure early Tuesday morning. After wondering if her boy was going to be alright on the trip, he quickly responded, "Mom I am a seventh grader and I am independent now. You will survive not talking to me for three days and I will be ok."
Part of being the parent of a middle schooler is knowing when and how far to toss your fledgling teenagers out of the nest. Sometimes if we listen to our kids, they’ll tell us how ready they are. Thanks for sharing your children with us.
Enjoy a few pictures from our various escapades.
One of the many things that excites me about working at Bancroft is seeing how great teachers are always striving to engage and teach their students in new, exciting, and meaningful ways. Upper School science teacher MaryAnn DeMaria recently shared the story of how a chat with colleague Carrie Whitney, our sixth grade science teacher, resulted in her eleventh grade students concocting a crime scenario — let’s call it “The Candy Caper” — to illustrate current DNA analysis technology to the sixth grade students. MaryAnn writes:
"Earlier in the year Carrie asked me to help her put together a DNA fingerprinting lab for her students. I thought it would be great if the juniors in my AP Biology class could modify their Restriction Enzyme Lab and turn into an experience for the sixth graders. Their idea was to make the crime a candy theft — someone had stolen the candy from Mr. Kamosky’s desk! They crafted a great lesson plan to teach the sixth graders how DNA fingerprinting actually works to identify a criminal. They created lab packets, designed an assessment, and set up the lab for the sixth graders. They even recruited several faculty and staff members to star in this video, which set the stage and outlined the crime for the sixth graders."
This week I popped into the Fuller Science Center and witnessed those sixth and eleventh graders working side-by-side, performing gel electrophoresis on DNA from the “suspects,” which allowed them to create a DNA fingerprint to help determine the perp’s identity. As MaryAnn excitedly explained, “My students got to be ‘teachers of others’ while capably demonstrating their knowledge of DNA and DNA fingerprinting!”
Eventually the sixth graders will create a news video to share their results with the juniors.
When educators have opportunities to connect like this, even a casual conversation between two of Bancroft’s fantastic teachers can grow into a unique and memorable learning experience that connects our curious and talented students across divisions.
As to who committed the crime? I’ll have to plead the Fifth.
An evening full of varied presentations and interesting pursuits is infinitely more compelling than what would result from a limited range of pre-packaged topics. When students have a say in choosing which interests they pursue, how they work, and what they create, their level of engagement necessarily increases. With appropriate guidance and a strong foundation of skills, a degree of freedom takes our students on journeys of curiosity that have the potential to ignite passions that can impact and shape their future pursuits and even, perhaps, their careers.
Another of the most important pieces of these successful projects was you. And no, it wasn’t the behind-the-scenes support you offered, whether in the form of a last-minute supply run or taste-testing. Your support, both tangible and moral, was a key ingredient in these varied, student-driven projects. The most important thing you did was show up and be part of the audience.
A true and authentic audience is what separates a practice from a game. It's what differentiates a dress rehearsal from opening night. And in the case of these academic examples, the audience was the difference-maker, turning what traditionally would have been a binary transaction between a student and a teacher into a true celebration of all the learning and hard work. The presence of the crowd raised the stakes, and the projects were even stronger.
When true curiosity drives learning, and an audience is there to see the results, everyone benefits.
Want to know more about these three major spring projects? Click here.
This post comes to you from MS Spanish teacher Jody Stephenson.
Entering the Boone Room last Friday night, I was instantly transported to an oceanic wonderland. From the crepe paper seaweed on the walls, to the construction paper fish painstakingly drawn by hand and the fanciful touch added by the sixth graders — life-size mer-people cutouts! The following snapshots are only a few of the moments that I witnessed Friday night that speak to why I love working here.
I saw generosity, as each student who arrived early asked “Señora, what do you need me to do?”
I witnessed kindness and compassion when a seventh grader reassured a sixth grader that she needn’t be nervous at her first dance, and when another seventh grader reached out to a younger student in need, coaxing her onto the dance floor and making her smile.
I noticed leadership and risk-taking, from a sixth grader decorating an event for the first time, to a seventh grader exploring a new interest as our official photographer, to an eighth grader warmly welcoming each arriving student.
I saw acceptance and inclusion as a multi-grade card game spontaneously commenced on the lobby floor, and students who may not have known each other well laughed and strengthened connections.
I saw milestones occurring before my eyes from a sixth grader’s first slow dance, to a seventh grader’s newfound confidence, to an eighth grader’s mature reflection and awareness that this dance was a moment to remember, the first in a series of endings in these weeks leading up to graduation.
By 9:45 we had erased all traces of the dance, save for a stray strand of seaweed on the floor. But even after removing the music and decorations, the twinkling lights and the food, something so special still remains — a remarkable group of students who challenge each other to take risks, who accept each other with all of their beautiful imperfections, and who take care of each other without even being asked.
On the drive home, tired, but with my heart full, I thought to myself how incredibly privileged I am to be able to witness this every day as a part of this exceptional community.
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