Adolescents are a unique age group. They are in transition for their personal, social, physical and intellectual development. Middle school students are uncertain and they question everything while searching for relevance and meaning. They declare themselves worthy of independence, yet demand constant attention. I often reassure parents that adolescence is a return to the “twos” with a larger vocabulary and that it too will pass. The days leading up to the transition to middle school can give many students their worst nightmares. Getting lost, not knowing anyone, new teachers, subjects that are more demanding and not being able to open combination locks on lockers add to the stress of the first few days of school. Yet, the opening day at Western Middle School proved that our students were ready and excited to begin this new stage of their educational lives. Due to the combined efforts of teachers, counselors, students and parents, I witnessed a flawless transition to a new school for some and a trouble-free return from summer vacation for all. It was another example of why Western Middle School received the well deserved Connecticut Exemplary School Climate award. Each morning I am energized when students greet me with a smile and say “Good morning Ms. Starr-Klein.”
The first day of school, I was introduced to four new students who moved to Greenwich from different countries. They came from Japan, Germany, Columbia and Denmark. We celebrate the diversity of the many cultures represented in our school and understand how this enriches our community. It is one of several reasons why Western Middle School was recently recognized as a “candidate” school for the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. During the next two years we will be pursuing authorization as an IB World School. These schools share a common philosophy – a commitment to high quality, challenging, international education that we believe is important for our students. The program is designed to help adolescents find a sense of belonging in an increasingly interrelated world and to foster an excitement about learning that continues throughout their lives. The IB Mission states that its aim is to “… develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world…”
As educators we need to foster programs that keep the uniqueness of adolescence in the forefront of our instruction, curriculum, assessment and every decision we make at the middle school level. One focus this year is to further develop student centered instruction where students become active participants in shaping their academic experiences. This includes more academic inquiry and skill development to motivate student learning. The staff will be concentrating on ways to differentiate instruction within the framework of our curriculum so that a variety of students will have their diverse learning needs met. Teams of teachers collaborate daily to discuss assessment data, student work and instructional methods. Together they will write units of study that meet the rigorous IB criteria, show how different subjects are interrelated and how they are connected to the students’ lives. We will strive to provide activities where students develop inquiry skills, collaborate on learning tasks, and evaluate and reflect on their work and the work of others in order to increase awareness of their learning growth.
The first week at Western Middle School verified that learning is accomplished, for both adults and students, in a trusting environment that invites risk taking and allows the ability to make mistakes. I am thrilled to be a part of the supportive community that exists at Western Middle School and look forward to a successful school year.