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.
During the last week and a half here in the Middle School we had several opportunities to rally around major events that brought our community together. The eighth grade play, our community service afternoon, and a student-organized Turkey Trot all served to put a spotlight on the power that comes from a group of people, all with incredibly varied identities, uniting around common beliefs, principles, work, and events that are larger than any one person.
- On Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9, our eighth graders staged four performances of “Born to be Wild,” a fantastic play that artfully and humorously revealed the inner lives of animals while more subtly exploring themes of identity, friendship, family, self-awareness, and self-actualization. It’s hard to say what was the most enjoyable part for me -- seeing the masks, costumes, and sets the students made; watching kids recite lines on the stage and then frantically jump down into the pit band to play the accompanying score; witnessing the behind-the-scenes support the Upper School tech crew provided -- there were so many highlights. But in the end the best part was the shared laughter that brought all of us, including every Bancroft student as well as parents, teachers, family, and friends, together.
- On Wednesday, November 16, more than 150 Middle School students, faculty, and volunteer parents ventured off campus to serve our greater community. We accomplished much and some of those feats (miles of trails cleared, pound of goods and food organized and distributed, number of books read to kids) are definitively quantifiable. But what is unquantifiable, and arguably more important for the development of our children, were the human connections made, the moments where empathy transcended differences between people, and the wonderful feelings spurred by the release of dopamine as we laughed and enjoyed ourselves while doing good work.
- On Thursday, November 17, around 50 Middle and Upper School students and faculty participated in a Turkey Trot, a run around our cross country course that generated lots of donations for the Worcester County Food Bank. Not only was the fun run a great opportunity for the student leader and her team to learn how to organize and run an event like this, one with lots of moving parts and inevitable last-minute speed bumps, but it brought many of us together. Again. As a parent noted to me in an email, “[we] appreciate the fact that Bancroft values and encourages this type of learning experience for the students, and that the community turns out in support.” I couldn’t agree more.
These moments that brought us shoulder to shoulder are profoundly important here at Bancroft. Celebrating individuality and emerging personal identities while highlighting and emphasizing what brings us together has always been a crucial part of the important work we do with kids.
Finally, below is a sampling of thoughts faculty shared after an exhilarating day serving our community. The energy, spirit, and fearlessness the students demonstrated in giving what they can of themselves for something bigger than themselves is an inspiration to me and all the adults who have the privilege of working with your children every day:
- A young student at Belmont Street School told Sullivan he was drawing a picture of him
- Siblings Anne and Jack working together to saw a log
- The AMAZING kids laughing and chatting with the elderly and making them so happy!
- Feeding sheep
- Seeing the supervisor of Wachusett Greenways beam about the work of Bancroft students
- The passion and joy in the eyes of the parents who witnessed chorus sing at Seven Hills
- The ladies at St. Anne’s were so willing to do whatever they could. Mary completely re-organized a shelf of holiday items and Abby befriended a baby and her mom.
- Celine getting an extremely short-term memory limited Alzheimer's patient to color for the first time (it's been a long time since this woman was able to do this)
- "Ms. Sigismondi, can we go sit and talk to that old man?"
- Sophie, after packing boxes of food up for Thanksgiving meals said, "I LOVE packing boxes! Can I come back here next time?"
Enjoy what you are thankful for this no-homework Thanksgiving break.
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.
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.
I was struck by how many interesting things are going on in the halls of the Middle School these days, and I thought I’d share some snapshots of the happenings. This by-no-means-exhaustive list demonstrates engaging, student-centered work that is reflective of our mission and the Learning Lab Method (LLM) approach.
- Students in Grade 6, after learning about Eastern and Western artists including Hokusai and Durer and their varied methods of printing, as well as learning about Gutenberg's movable type printing press, are creating/carving their own woodblock prints.
- Seventh grade English students are writing professional letters to Cecilia Galante, author of The Patron Saint of Butterflies, a novel the class recently read. They will soon Skype with the author. Additionally, students are crafting 15-second Vocabulary Videos for the New York Times vocabulary contest.
- Our Good Reads book club recently Skyped with National Book Award winner Eliot Schrefer after reading his book Endangered about the bonobos of Nigeria.
- After recent and impressive competition results, our Middle School MathCounts Team is in the running for a wild card slot at the state competition at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston on Saturday, March 5. Three of our seven competitors are going on to the individual competition at states.
- Eighth graders are deep into their arts electives, which include the following course options: Ukulele, Drumming, Drawing/Painting, Bookmaking, Handbells, Tech Theatre, and Improvisation.
- In a mash-up of their English and history studies, the Grade 7 HGP class is investigating the concept of an "ideal" society by contrasting The Giver, a dystopian novel about a controlled society, with the Framers' experiences at the Constitutional Convention. Using the ideas and principles that they learn, they will design their own ideal societies, presenting in teams to a panel of teachers and peers who will vote on the society in which they would most like to live.
- An eighth grade advisory recently practiced guided meditation. It’s not unheard of for students to ask for permission to go meditate.
- French students recently participated in a proficiency-based assessment where they took on the roles of waiter and diner, communicating in the target language, sans notes.
- After collaborating on scripts via iPads, sixth graders produced NPR-style radio broadcasts and reported "live from the battlefield" in connection with their 19th century American studies. Students also wrote reviews of classmates’ broadcasts.
- Seventh grade science students have begun their science fair projects, but their excitement and work is not contained to their science classroom alone. A number of students are using their time in Project-Builder's Club to work on projects including: a baseball batting device, a gas collection and measuring apparatus, and a wind tunnel/airfoil testing machine.
- In the discussion stage is a Middle/Upper cross-division plan to create an Electric Car Project.
- Eighth graders were busy wrapping up their big mid-year assessment in English by creating portfolios of their work. You can see all the requirements here, but of particular interest may be the creative writing component for which students had five options:
- Choose one of the zodiac signs (Taurus, Pisces, Aquarius, etc.) and research what that sign means. Then, choose a character that could fit this zodiac sign and explain how/why.
- Write a eulogy (a speech given at a funeral) in honor of a character who has died. Make sure it is clear which character is giving the eulogy!
- Create a scene using narration and dialogue in which characters from two or more texts meet and interact with each other in some interesting way.
- Create a 15-20 line ‘found poem’ using lines from two or more texts. You must cite each of the lines so your readers know which texts they are from!
- Pretend you are the author of one of our texts, but the Bancroft administration is threatening to ban your work at school because of “inappropriate content” or “adult themes.” Write a formal, one-page letter to Mr. Cassidy explaining why your text should not be banned at Bancroft. Sample letter starter: “Dear Mr. Cassidy, It has come to my attention that…”
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