Empowering Middle Schoolers: Fostering Self-Discovery and Leadership
With over 25 years of experience in school, Middle School Principal Beth Coyle guides and provides the vision for Middle School education at American School of the Hague. From increasing student voice to learning about leadership and independence to creating opportunities for students to discover themselves as people, Beth gives us insights into the structure and objectives of Middle School - a time when students undergo significant transformation.
Academic Goals
The foundation of the Middle School is a really strong academic program. This is supported by teachers who teach in the areas of their expertise. Looking ahead to 2024, plans are underway to introduce cross-disciplinary teaching, fostering collaboration among educators and ensuring progression and connections between classes in the curriculum.
“We look for opportunities to help students be curious about the content through an inquiry approach” says Beth. Supported by teachers, students are encouraged to explore and learn which dispositions they need to strengthen their understanding of a topic in class.
Making Choices Through Self-discovery
As students move through Middle School, they encounter increasing opportunities to make more and more decisions for themselves; decisions which help them explore and shape their future and aspirations.
Grade 5 is intentionally a bridging year between Elementary to Middle School. In addition to traditional classes like language arts, social sciences, and math, students have foundational experiences, where elements of art, information technology (IT), home economics, and library and literacy are included in the schedule. All students in Grade 5 continue with our host country language of Dutch. In Grade 6, students are given the option to select a language of their choice -- Spanish, French, or Dutch. In both Grade 5 and Grade 6, students take on dual musical experiences, where they participate in both vocal and instrumental musical classes.
Students in Grade 7 can choose to concentrate their musical experience in choir, strings, or band. They are also exposed to a wide range of elective classes, including 3D art and sculpture, speech and debate, manufacturing, coding, and robotics. In Grade 8, students can choose to continue down the path of music or to explore their interests further by taking more elective classes.
In addition to giving students choice, a critical element of Middle School is nurturing the process of self-discovery. “We support students to make decisions by focusing on a process of self-discovery and growth,” Beth says. This process fosters students' independence and responsibility, nurturing traits they carry forward into High School. By 8th grade, students possess a deeper understanding of themselves and a strengthened sense of self. Students in Middle School often describe their experience as empowering.
Middle School also has social and emotional learning standards that are implemented through the advisory program. The Middle School Advisory program is a safe space that provides mentorship and supports students on social, emotional, and academic levels to strengthen our ASH community. It fosters opportunities for students to build relationships and a sense of community by covering a breadth of topics; from goal-setting, to service learning the complexities of transitions, to practicing balance for mental well-being and much more. Every grade level has an emphasis on a different developmentally appropriate and tailored to the needs and concerns of the students, aiming to support them in developing a better sense of self. For example, Grade 5 advisories are focused on identity and Grade 6 advisories work on executive functioning.
Fostering Independence and Leadership
Another key focus of Middle School is cultivating independence and leadership qualities among students. Through advisory and flex times in the schedule, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning journey, seeking guidance from teachers and pursuing their interests through clubs and initiatives. “In Middle School, we’re in a position where we, the staff and teachers, are able to give them opportunities to choose, and the older they get, the more we release that control. That’s how we nurture independence,” says Beth.
One example to illustrate this is the rise of clubs. Beth shares, “We try to develop more clubs for our students based on student interest. We nurture the ideas of students and find an adult advocate who will support them - like the Sunflower Club, focused on spreading kindness, or the incredible growth of the Sustainability Club. The older they get, the more they realize they can do these kinds of things.”
At the same time, guiding students to discover their strengths has proven to be an exemplary tool to help them find an area where they can become leaders. Beth gave the example of Samantha, an 8th Grade student, saying “Samantha is co-founder of Sustainability Club and is very much a leader for the initiatives and activities planned by them – from planning Earth Week activities like clothing swap to presenting a plan to our managing directors and the Wassenaar Mayor to improve biodiversity on the school grounds.”
Standards-Based Learning
Middle School has transitioned from traditional grading to standards-based grading, encouraging students to focus on specific areas of knowledge and skills throughout the curriculum and to help them see learning as a journey they are on. This shift promotes a holistic view of student progress and fosters a growth mindset.
“Who they develop to be as a learner, is what’s going to make them successful no matter where they are in life,” says Beth. “They develop a sense of responsibility, a sense of collaboration with others, and how to persevere - these are the kinds of qualities we want to nurture every year, in addition to our core values as a school.”
Parents in Middle School
Parents are a crucial part in our students’ development and learning. In Middle School student conferences, parents and students come together with the teachers to discuss the topics they’ve been learning and how they’ve grown in their learning.
Teachers actively encourage parents to engage in specific units through creative activities and lessons. For instance, during a literature unit, parents with legal backgrounds participated in a mock trial activity, guiding students through legal arguments and discussions. In another example, during a manufacturing class, students pitched their product ideas to parents, where parents offered insights to enhance business models and pitching skills, fostering creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.
Middle School at American School of the Hague is a vibrant hub of growth and exploration, where students are empowered to discover themselves and their passions, develop crucial life skills, and build a strong foundation for future success. With an organized program and supportive community, Middle School nurtures well-rounded individuals ready to thrive in an ever-changing world.