The Middle School


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The Concept of the Middle School

The Middle School learner is part of a unique growth age: the majority of students at this stage today are involved in a time in their lives when they are physically and emotionally growing quickly, often at a time when there are changes occurring in their families or in the community around them. They are a group of individuals full of enquiry, yet eager to claim the security of the peer group. They are not senior secondary students, nor are they primary school students.

Historical Perspective

Germany has recognised the concept of the Middle School or Mittelschule as part of its educational structure for over a century. In Italy, the scuola media statale and in England the Middle School movement can be seen to emerge in educational circles from the 1960s onwards. In the U.S., Middle School gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s Middle Schools came to Australia in Victoria and South Australia. Various educational reviews have been held in Australia since the 1990s and identify some common and important points:

(i) The main focus of Middle Schooling is to ensure that at a potentially difficult stage, young people continue to develop intellectually, emotionally and socially, be helped to see the connections between their school experience and their future lives and be encouraged to move from dependence to independence.

(ii) The world of adolescents has changed dramatically over the past few years but many classrooms have not. Consequently they do not mirror the real world.

(iii) Students in the middle years of schooling, typically Years 6 to 9, are not any set of students over a four year age range. They constitute a definite developmental group.

Essington – Leader in Middle Schooling in the NT

The Essington International School Darwin was the leader in the Northern Territory in introducing Middle Schooling to its educational program. In 1996-1997 initial discussions took place on the then Essington School Board, and in 1998 a new building for the Middle School was completed, the Webb Centre. (This new Middle School was named after the School’s Founding Chair, Dr. Grahame Webb). Since then the curriculum, co-curricular and pastoral care programs in the Middle School have continued to grow – along with the number of students enrolled in these years. From 1999 to 2008 the Schools Middle School was defined as Years 6 to 10. Years 6 and 7 were seen as Stage 1 of the Middle School program and journey, and Years 8 and 9 were seen as Stage 2. Year 10 was seen as the preparation year for senior secondary and in 2005 this was extended to include Year 11 subjects (and hence known as Year 10/11).

In 2009 with the restructuring of the educational system in the Northern Territory, and the inclusion of Year 10 in senior secondary, The Essington International School Darwin defined its Middle School as Years 6 to 9, and Year 10 (known as Year 10/11) as Senior School. From the beginning of 2011 it will be formally part of the School’s new Senior College program. While the Year 11 and 12 program will be based at nearby Charles Darwin University and immersed in their campus, Year 10s (while still based at the School’s Nightcliff Campus), will attend specialist classes at the School’s Senior College at Charles Darwin University.

In 2010 The Essington International School Darwin’s successful extended curriculum program in the Middle Years was recognised in the outstanding national literacy and numeracy NAPLAN results achieved by its students in Years 7 and 9. Similar outstanding results have been identified in other areas of the Middle School program including Science (through the international Science Literacy assessment program).

What is Middle Schooling all about?

Middle Schools began to develop in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s in response to the disengagement of students in the early junior high school years. This was showing up in students leaving school early, low attendance rates, and a decline in learning outcomes in the early secondary years of education when compared to outcomes achieved in the primary years.

Middle school advocates formulated their visions in terms of human growth and development rather than on content in subject areas. Research indicated the dramatic changes of puberty affected children between the ages of 10 and 14 years of education. There was a growing awareness that in the middle years of schooling we needed to provide more opportunities to learn, grow and develop in ways that acknowledge and respect this phase of their lives.

The Middle School was to offer a balanced, comprehensive, and success-oriented curriculum. It was to be a sensitive, caring, supportive learning environment that would assist students to make the transition from late childhood to adolescence. It was intended to bridge the gap between the self-contained structure of primary schools and the subject department structure of secondary schools.

In essence the development of Middle Schools was a response to the realization that we needed a different way of organizing our schools and curriculum, and teaching for students in the preadolescent years. What worked for primary students and upper secondary students was not effective for this group of students at this stage of their developmental journey. They needed something different.

Middle School seeks to:

  • provide unique experiences for students in transition between childhood and adolescence
  • helps students become proficient in the basic skills
  • helps students develop fundamental thinking processes which foster independent learning
  • helps meet the special physical, social, emotional, and character needs of preadolescent students

Profiling the Middle School Student

A recent article in a professional curriculum journal painted the following profile of middle school students in the editorial titled, “Which Way, the Middle?”:

“They are consumers, a marketers’ target group that influences the purchase of everything from clothes to MP3 players to cell

phones. They are the multitaskers exposed to six and one half hours of media each day, often simultaneously watching TV, listening to music, playing computer games, instant messaging, and even doing homework.

They are worriers, concerned about their grades, their appearance, problems at home, and how to fit in with friends – not to mention the future of their world.