A seamless transition from primary to secondary education is seen as a primary focus of any middle school. Traditionally, the `jump’ from one sector to the other is usually regarded as problematical for many students and disastrous for some. An important feature of Middle School at Heathdale is to build on the good introduction to learning provided by the Junior School and to prepare students to cope with study in the Senior School. Therefore, Years 5 to 8 are not regarded as a fill-in period, but one in which a meaningful consolidation of basic skills occurs, new challenges are provided and careful monitoring exists to guide young people through a difficult time of physical and emotional change.
At Heathdale we view these years as a bridge conveying our students successfully from the establishment classes of the Junior School and laying a solid foundation for successful completion of senior levels of education. Our guiding theme has always been the `Middle School Bridge of Development’ which illustrates a host of character traits to be developed and worthwhile learning outcomes to be achieved throughout the four years, underpinned by the important reference points of the family, the church and the teachers. The programs utilised in the Middle School have these goals in mind.
Of particular importance is the development of the personal skills of responsibility, organisation and interpersonal (relational) skills. When children enter Grade 5 the process of learning to take greater responsibility for oneself and for one’s belongings begins. Good organisation is fundamental to the establishment of a good work ethic. Diaries as an effective organisational and communication tool are utilised. Knowing how to relate to peers in a meaningful and acceptable way as one begins to mature is a skill usually enhanced by careful guidance. The growth of personal skills is a gradual maturing process which continues throughout Years 5 to 8.
The concept of a `Middle School identity’ is pivotal to the success of assisting young people to cross the Middle School bridge. New and challenging programs help to capture their energies and enthusiasm. A sense of belonging to a group, and sub-groups within this structure, is important for young adolescents as they seek to discover who they are and how they fit into the community of which they are a part. Capturing their positive participation is vital if we are to avoid some of the negative behaviour patterns which are sometimes exhibited by this age group in society generally.
The foundations of our approach the family, the church and Christian teachers, stresses the importance of the `spiritual’ factor in this ongoing process. The Middle School approach is founded on the premise that there is objective truth as found in the bible. Therefore there are objective answers to life’s important issues, rather than society’s shifting, relative standards. Such a Christian worldview provides a solid, clear standard for young people as they seek to operate effectively and appropriately. Encouraging the importance and involvement of the family in this maturing process is beneficial for the students as well as fostering good family relationships. Core spiritual understanding and biblical instruction is vital to give students hope and faith at a time of rapid change in their lives, especially when many other unhelpful pressures are competing for their allegiance.
Capturing the interest of students at this stage of development is highly desirable if basic skills are to be consolidated and new spheres of learning are to be appreciated. Engaging students in academic pursuits makes school days more meaningful and enjoyable, and enables their growing curiosity during this period of questioning to be channelled productively.
The Middle School program provides a broad range of core and new subjects such as Langauges and Creative Arts subjects. Opportunities for achievement are likely to occur due to the diversity of subjects offered. This is a period of breadth of opportunity prior to the more specialised subject focus required in the Senior School.
Young adolescents seek meaningful learning experiences and need to be catered for accordingly. They also need skills to cope with the everyday demands of their academic study. Gaining the tools of learning helps them to avoid `giving up’ or feeling a failure. Without challenge and carefully monitored graded instruction, engagement with productive learning can be lost and not easily regained in the future.
Interesting activities are a great spur to fostering engagement with school. In the Middle School we believe in providing opportunities for the development of leadership skills, by the election of Prefects and House Captains and participation in school assemblies. The Year 5/Year 8 Buddy program has been an effective asset for social development and for fostering Middle School identity.
A key feature of the Middle School philosophy at Heathdale is concerned about developing academic excellence. Learning programs do not remain static: as students grow and develop physically, their understanding and achievement should also progress. Curriculum standards are based on meaningful and appropriate progression.
Students need to see that learning is interesting and meaningful. If there is no challenge and no striving for improvement, then mediocrity, rather than individual growth will be the outcome. Teachers are required to monitor students carefully. Rewards and recognition is a frequent feature.
Examinations in Years 7 and 8 and regular tests in Grades 5 and 6 serve as a helpful tool in monitoring achievement and in preparing students for this type of assessment in the future. In conjunction with examinations the students develop the important skills of revision, study and time management.
As the skills of the Junior School are consolidated and as students prepare for the Senior School, the theme is one of `moving on’ and not becoming static. If students are part of a culture of `achievement’ they are more likely to continue on to further education and be saved from falling through the cracks.