Thriving on Growth

Liz Gray, Middle School Head and Minna Ham, Lower School Head
Post Date: May 10th, 2019

Liz Gray, Middle School Head

A few weeks ago at a parent coffee, a parent who had attended last year's coffees on middle school program design asked this question that has made me pause.

"Last year, we talked about building the Barn and beginning enrollment growth and how those would affect the middle school program. What have been the greatest rewards and challenges that the middle school has faced since then?"

I have been kicking this question around in my head daily.

When I think back to May 2018, we were surveying students to gather their “burning questions” about what they could expect this year and the questions poured in.

How will we fit everyone in the lunchroom? How many teachers will there be in sixth grade? Are we going to be required to be on an athletics team? Will we have to walk outside every time we go to the Barn? Will things go back to normal?  

That final question was something that was on everyone’s minds last spring. Faculty and students alike were all wondering, Will we ever be able to get to a “new normal” and find our footing again? If this year has taught me anything, it’s that the answer is yes.

In one year, we have transitioned from a fifth-through-eighth middle school to a sixth-through-eighth middle school. Our staffing structure changed and our sixth grade teaching team more than doubled in size. We welcomed thirteen fabulous new students and families to the middle school. A group of middle school faculty worked hard over the summer to plan a brand-new middle school orientation program, which welcomed new students last August, introducing them to everything from what to expect academically to touring the Barn in its early construction phase. And we added Latin to our languages slate, and sixth-grade classicists have now just finished building replicas of a Roman bath, complete with a hypocaust, the hollow room beneath the baths that warmed them with fire from below.

The sixth grade delivered an amazing Freedom Night performance this week, embracing the new class size, structure, and musical collaboration. Their exhibits graced the sixth grade classrooms this week and were shared for visitors to learn more about civil rights throughout time and cultures.  

Seventh and eighth graders are traveling daily to and from the Barn, where they are tinkering and investigating in the gorgeous science lab and innovation studio, creating in the art and woodworking studios, and practicing and competing on the shiny new gym floors. Our athletics program has expanded with all middle school students joining in the camaraderie and leadership of our teams. And our arts program is introducing sixth graders to a new foundational arts experience that more smoothly and effectively paves the way for our seventh and eighth grade arts electives.

The challenges we faced have been mostly behind the scenes. They include the meticulous planning, the spirited debates, the physical labor of moving classrooms, and the nuanced work and care involved in working as a member of a new team of colleagues. The reward from that hard work has emerged—the life of the middle school is more vibrant than ever.

I celebrate everyone involved in this success. Our outstanding faculty always have their hearts and minds on what is best for students and never stop working to provide it. Our families have listened, provided their wisdom and feedback, and trusted us through significant changes. Most importantly, our students continue to rise above whatever we may imagine, and make us proud with their brave voices that bring both laughter and seriousness of purpose to every day of our work with them. While this may be the “new normal,” we all know that BDS does not stop moving, so look and listen carefully, as the best will keep coming.

Minna Ham, Lower School Head

Every school has a heart. The heart is the room, the nook, the office that reverberates with the pulse of the school. I realized quickly that the heart of BDS is the Erskine Library. This year it served as my classroom as I taught a first grade reading group and I have witnessed the power it has to bring comfort, joy, and wonder to our community.

This summer the Erskine Library will be fully renovated thanks to a community effort with parents and faculty working on research, design, and funding. School librarian, Amy Sprung has spearheaded these efforts. Her expertise and passion are moving the renovation forward.

For me, libraries can be the quintessential models of equity and inclusion work. They are a haven of free information and are open to all—a place where both young and old can find laughter, tears, adventure, and enlightenment. When appropriately curated and maintained, a library’s collection provides valuable windows and mirrors, giving readers opportunities to see themselves and to learn about others. Libraries can be places where one finds validation, as well as question ideas that once seemed like fact. Books are valuable teachers with words communicating new ideas and information, opening both minds and hearts. Stories and characters transport us to unfamiliar places and teach us empathy and life lessons we may never realize in our everyday lives. Libraries have the power to both fuel and satiate one’s curiosity.

In celebration of the library renovation, student summer reading selections share the broad theme of books and libraries. As you can imagine, this theme can encompass many other sophisticated concepts such as access to information and education, diversity of thought and also embrace the more basic ideas of welcoming places, love of books and reading, and even friendship. Summer reading for faculty will be to find a book of our choice from our local library.

Having spent most of my year listening to books in my car, I am looking forward to checking out a book from my hometown library. Entering the stacks, looking for just the right summer companion, I know the shelves will not fail me. Among the plastic coverings and colorful bindings, I will find the book that is just right for me, the book that will quench whatever thirst I may have at the moment. It might be a mystery to give me a thrill, a memoir to inspire, or a debut novel from an upcoming author. My feelings of satisfaction and anticipation will be mirrored by students when they find their perfect books on all new shelves this fall.

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