Daycroft Middle School 2021 Vision

Written Spring 2016

students writing math formula on whiteboard

We have embarked on a new journey at Daycroft, to add a middle school, with all of the exciting possibilities and hard work that an endeavor of this magnitude requires. What does success with the middle school look like? What is our preferred future? In this community vision, we want to describe Daycroft Middle School five school years from now, in the spring of 2021. We’ve crafted a strategically sound vision we can use for inspiration, to gather new people who will help us reach our goals, and to share our plans with everyone in the Daycroft community. We've given this vision a date with measurable outcomes so we can evaluate our success.

We will need a “work plan”, too, of course. That's a separate process, and also underway.

It's Spring 2021 at Daycroft. Five years ago we started down the path to a middle school, and the Daycroft community could not be stronger. When we talk about the middle school, we have to start with the students, but it is all interconnected – the students, the teachers, the learning environment, the curriculum, the relationship of the middle school to the rest of the school, and even our students once they leave Daycroft. Let us start with the students. It’s 2021. . .

The Middle School Students

student with microscope in middle school science classWhen we step into the classroom, the first thing we notice is groups of students working in discussing, collaborating, actively engaged as independent learners. The students exchange discourse as the teachers carefully observe and insert thought-provoking questions when needed. It's clear from the décor and organization that the students have taken a large role in crafting the culture of the class – elements you can see in the younger elementary students that have blossomed in these middle schoolers. The students are known for their strong sense of how to be learners, for taking initiative in their learning, and actively engaging with peers and adults (including adults in the community).

Certainly the size of the class has had an impact. We've all heard a variation or two of the concern that if a middle school isn't big enough, it can't provide the chance for students to move between multiple classrooms with multiple teachers, join sports teams, and have large social circles. That's true, although we have joined with other small schools to provide sports teams, and other social events. But what is just as clear is that if a middle school is too big, it can't provide the individualized attention, opportunities for deep discussion, and the chance for teachers and students to know each other well. After 5 years, the 7/8 class has grown to an average of 15 students with two teachers. With this low student-teacher ratio, the students have more voice, ability to co-create knowledge, time to share their thoughts, pursue their theories, and receive feedback and support from teachers. This cognitive autonomy is a prime ingredient of the high level of engagement the students have. The size of the middle school is, in many ways, a tremendous advantage for our students. In fact, we've already started our vision for the middle school in 2026, and foremost in our minds is the need to keep the ability to deliver the special things only an intimate school can provide.

Student academic progress is clear from the work produced. and in meeting and exceeding the curriculum normally associated with their peers in both public and private schools. They perform well on standardized tests, however, at Daycroft we do not let standardized testing guide our teaching. Instead, we use data-driven instruction through formative assessments to guide our students to success. More importantly, Daycroft Middle Schoolers are well-rounded individuals who value community, kindness, and remain lifelong learners. It is evident the students have formed a tight-knit classroom community. They belong to this group, they are part of something great and special, and this experience will have a profound, lifelong impact. Parents are happy their children are excited about learning, and impressed with how mature they are and how they interact with others in the community.

Continuing the excellent programs in art and music, the middle school students show maturity in their artwork. They continue their studies with the use of additional media, further studies of art history and opportunities to explore their creative expression. . Their intentional, inspiring artwork contributes to the Daycroft community and inspires the creativity of the younger students. In music, there was an initial emphasis on smaller groups of 3-4 students (trios, quartets, jazz band), but as our program has grown students have the opportunity for larger orchestra experiences. The middle school students are gaining fluency in Spanish, a continuation of their elementary studies, and are leaving our school ready for Spanish 2 in high school.

The Teachers

The two middle school teachers continue Daycroft's tradition of extraordinary teachers. Middle school students face challenges all their own at this stage in their lives, among them social tensions and often a feeling of awkwardness. The middle school teachers were selected with special attention to their ability to meet the challenges of this age group, in addition to being fully Montessori trained and state certified with a valid teaching certificate, competent in their content knowledge, patient and professional. The teachers are innovative and well versed in current educational strategies. Their role in posing the right questions for students to engage in independent discussion, their magnetic personalities, creativity and humor are employed daily. The teachers are known throughout the school and are friendly to all the grades. These teachers have created a safe environment where students are encouraged to take educational risks. The continued low, student-teacher ratio allows teachers to give individual attention to students and is a core component of the high academics the students achieve.

The Learning Environment

The middle school classroom is obviously “owned” by the students. It's clear the students are the center of focus, and it is setup for studying, relaxing, conversing, and collaborating. There's beauty and order arising from the students rather than imposed on them. The room is designed to allow for collaboration, as individual desks can be moved together to make larger workspaces, and students often gather on the carpeted area with pillows to hash out the topic at hand. Like all classrooms at Daycroft, there is a sense of beauty and the room is enhanced nature, plants, and items made of wood and wicker. The slushy machine that the 5th and 6th graders proposed in 2015 is still understandably not installed; however, a compromise juicer is in one corner and is a popular item. While the classroom is their “home”, there are a few new areas now in the school; mini kivas provide space for small group work or study. These are used by the upper elementary levels as well.

The Curriculum

There is a strong continuity that runs through all the classes at Daycroft; the curriculum builds on itself and spirals through each grade. The middle school curriculum continued this process and emphasizes the increased independence of our students and an expansion in their lives to the wider community. Outings are a large component of the curriculum, but integrated so that students typically first research and study topics related to the outing, and more often than not are active contributors rather than just observers. Service to the community is thus added to the levels of service already present at Daycroft: service to each other, to the class, to other classes, and to the school.

The traditional Montessori middle school emphasizes activities like gardening or farming. Daycroft's grounds continue to provide many opportunities for working with plants and the earth, activities often welcomed by the adolescents as a break from academics. We have expanded our science curriculum by studying the wetland which is part of Daycroft’s land behind the school. The Montessori curriculum also includes students developing a business, and the Daycroft community has seen the creative product offerings over the past 5 years.

The Middle School's Relationship to the Elementary

The middle school has had a big impact on the rest of Daycroft. There's continuity – the Daycroft community is delighted to have the students for another two to three years and see the growth along the trajectory the elementary has set them upon. Some of our students in middle school have been with us since preschool!

There are concrete results. Enrollment across the school has grown due to the parents’ attraction to the middle school. Over the past 5 years we've seen steady growth in the 5-6 class to the point where we are ready for a second classroom and look at other additions to our infrastructure.

The Daycroft “brand” has never been better with the increased visibility the middle school has created. The choice for parents of sending their children to Daycroft has been simplified. Parents are thrilled that their children will stay for middle school and the middle school is an active, attractive destination in its own right.

The students sell the middle school every day just by who they are in their interactions in the community. We frequently hear from organizations, where our students intern, that they wish the students were already 18 so they could hire them. Of course, these organizations aren't talking about how well our students do on standardized tests; they comment on their poise, attention to detail, sense of organization, inquisitiveness, and prosocial behaviors. It’s obvious that our middle schoolers are on a path of lifelong learning and growth.

The middle school students play a big role in the school: mentoring the younger students, assisting their peers, and caretaking the school's grounds and building. This service is increasingly independent and models behavior for the younger students.

The younger students, by the way, are predictably drawn to the middle schoolers. They can't wait for their own expansion of independence, the exciting projects, the many outings, and the specialness of middle school at Daycroft. Moving into middle school has a “big deal” feeling, similar to moving from our lower elementary to upper elementary. The younger children want to be in the middle school not just for what happens there, but because they imagine who they will become as a result.

We started the middle school 5 years ago with a strong belief in this path and a small group of founders. The students’ experience had an intensity that later classes would replace with the comfort of tradition. Our initial students wouldn't trade their experience as pioneers for the any other middle school experience. To this day, we have a celebratory party for our middle schoolers, and the founding alumni always attend.

The High School Transition – The Student Beyond Daycroft

The students who graduate from our middle school are strong, resilient, confident young people with a sense of self that prepares them well for the challenges of high school and beyond. They are independent learners, advanced beyond an average student, and know how to put ideas into action. Where other students might struggle with a radical transition socially or academically, the Daycroft alumn adapts quickly.

As our initial middle schoolers graduated, our parents witnessed these successful transitions. They heard stories how our students were soon welcomed by high school teachers who see Daycroft students as the “bright lights” in their classes. They describe our alumni as students who have a positive attitude towards learning, are engaged and interested, and offer much more than superficial answers to questions.

Most telling is when our students return to Daycroft. They show their beautiful work in arts and excitedly share stories about stimulating professors and interdisciplinary studies. They return because of the warm feelings they have towards Daycroft and their time here and how much they miss the teachers and the community.

When we ask parents on a scale of 1-10 (1 is “not on your life”, 10 is “in a heartbeat”), would you recommend Daycroft middle school to your friends, we consistently get scores of 8-10. And when we answer the phone, in addition to people telling us they've heard great things about Daycroft's preschool and elementary, they've also heard wonderful things about our middle school.

That's where we are now, spring 2021. Last year we crafted our vision for the middle school in 2026, and it is very exciting. Like the children who just started elementary this year, we can't wait.

Please contact us to learn more!