Washington Montessori School
New Preston, Connecticut
Where students cultivate critical thinking, independence, and a sense of community.
Adolescence, a phase rife with profound changes — physical, emotional, and cognitive — stands second only to infancy in its transformative impact. Dr. Montessori observed that an adolescent’s defining trait is the state of hopeful anticipation, coupled with a penchant for creative endeavors and the imperative of fortifying self-assurance. Our Middle School program harmonizes with Montessori’s principles, all the while meticulously preparing students for the leap to high school.
In the Middle School realm, students showcase mastery through diverse channels—encompassing tests, projects, papers, and verbal presentations. WMS veers away from conventional grading, opting for a comprehensive and continuous evaluation system. In tandem with instructor input, learners are tasked with gauging their own progression via informal and written self-assessments, nurturing practical self-awareness, and fostering a sense of authority over their educational journey.
Middle School Program Goals
We create a safe, nurturing atmosphere that values respect and involvement.
We create a challenging academic program at all levels and competencies.
We inspire a love of learning.
We help students acquire the tools necessary to learn independently.
We instill in our students the belief that each and every one of them has something important to contribute to the world.
Middle School School Day
At the Middle School level, the regular school day includes academic classes in humanities, science, math, and Spanish as well as opportunities to engage in meaningful social interaction and to experience self-worth through real and important work—a process Dr. Montessori termed “valorization.” On any given school day, Middle School students can be found engaging in some type of community service, outdoor education, or field study within their academic classes.
Other school days are set aside for dedicated field trips, service work, and outdoor education. Throughout the middle school program, students engage in sustained and authentic work with significance beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Drop-Off at 8:20 AM
Having time to unpack their things and greet friends is a positive way for adolescents to begin their school day. The Middle School Commons is supervised every morning beginning at 8 a.m. MS students are encouraged to take advantage of this time to unpack their things, greet friends, and connect with teachers.
Community Meeting at 8:30 AM
The school day officially begins at 8:30 a.m. with a Community Meeting attended by all Middle School students and staff. These meetings provide a daily forum to look at the day and week ahead and to discuss important issues affecting the Middle School community.
Within the larger Middle School community are Advisor Groups led by an Advisor and made up of students from 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Students get individual help with academic organization from their Advisors who focus on the personal growth and development of each student. Advisor Groups meet once a day and also gather together for lunch. There is time set aside for community meetings, with a focus on group problem solving and personal reflection.
Lunch and Recess
Advisor Groups have lunch together every day either somewhere outside on campus or in the Advisor’s classroom. After lunch, all Middle School students have recess together. Unless weather conditions are unsuitable recess is outdoors.
Dismissal at 3:15 PM
Optional After-School Arts & Athletics Until 5 PM
Students of all experience levels are encouraged to participate in Middle School after-school arts and athletics. We believe the adolescent brain, in particular, is strengthened by trying new things, taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them. Middle School arts and athletics are designed to support both the novice and the practiced. All participants, regardless of experience or technical skill, have something to contribute. Athletic teams meet after school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tuesdays and Fridays are reserved for arts programs.
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Middle School Signature Experiences
Montessori philosophy emphasizes the idea that physical work and a connection to nature help adolescents discover their strengths and capabilities. This tenet — paired with our belief that a sense of belonging is essential for an individual’s optimal achievement and our desire to foster personal growth and self-understanding in our students — is the catalyst for our annual Middle School Outdoor Education trip. The experience gives Middle School students the opportunity to establish a strong sense of community, to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors together, and to push themselves outside of their comfort zones as individuals and as a group.
One of the highlights of the 8th grade year at WMS is The Expert Project, a long-term research project that demands dedication, organization, patience and hard work. The Expert Project is an opportunity for students to pull all of their academic skills together to complete one final research paper and present on a topic that is important to them.
WMS students complete one-week internships in the fall of their 8th grade year so that they may begin to pursue real-life work that is meaningful to them. The program allows our students to apply what they’ve learned about themselves — individually and as members of a community — to the world around them in a very tangible way.
The Hero’s Journey is a rite of passage for our 7th-graders. The project is based on “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a seminal work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell. A well-known quotation from the book’s introduction summarizes the universal journey of heroes. “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” The Hero’s Journey curriculum at WMS views the changes that take place during adolescence (when children embark on the path to adulthood) as such a journey. The Hero’s Journey curriculum includes a study of ethical systems and an exploration of the media and its power. Other topics include: friendship, decision-making, conflict resolution, communication skills, leadership, group identity, accepting differences, and reproduction and pregnancy. The symbolism of the Hero’s Journey, the public presentation of the initiate, and the achievement of a challenging personal goal all serve to give the adolescent a sense of the significance and nobility of his or her own personal journey.
Community service helps change our children from passive recipients to active service providers. Through service, children have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills and make a positive contribution, expanding their understanding of the world and how it works, and giving them the opportunity to connect with people who are different. In the process of working toward a common goal, students engage in meaningful dialogue and develop trust and respect for each other. These experiences help our students understand that they have the power to make a difference and to do something to change their world. Community Service is woven into the MS curriculum, from daily jobs within the classrooms to larger off-campus projects. Students develop empathy, humility and leadership skills during their time spent serving others.
Within the larger Middle School community are Advisor Groups, each led by an Advisor and made up of students from 6th, 7th and 8th grades. While students do get individual help with academic organization from their Advisors, Advisor Group is less focused on academic concerns and more on understanding the individual responsibilities and rewards that are part of being a member of our Middle School. Advisor Groups meet once a day and also gather together for lunch. There is time set aside for community meetings, with a focus on group problem solving and personal reflection.
Life Worth Living
Advisor Groups engage with the Life Worth Living program. All through history, the world’s philosophers, artists, and religious leaders have wrestled with the big questions of human existence: What does it mean to belong? How do we live ethical lives? What makes a life worth living? In our advisor groups, students explore these issues following a curriculum derived from Yale’s popular course “A Life Worth Living.” Through readings from great thinkers and artists, films, discussions, journaling, and projects, our students ask themselves and each other these questions. The curriculum is flexible enough to allow students to delve deeper into issues that interest or inspire them. Once or twice each unit, all of the advisor groups join to share their thoughts and respond to new topics and areas of exploration.
Community Meetings provide valuable practice for becoming responsible, respectful and resourceful members of a community. Taking place in classrooms Lower School and up, Community Meetings help students of all ages recognize and respect differing perspectives, develop the ability to work through problems, and to realize their own significance within a community.
Promoting fellowship and responsibility among a wider range of ages, the Partner Class Program is a long-standing tradition at WMS that enhances the benefits of mixed-age classrooms. The program pairs Lower School classes with Upper Elementary classes and Lower Elementary classes with Middle School classes. The Partner Class program helps establish a sense of community within the different ages of students.
Montessori Middle School programs are marked by an emphasis on student choice, agency, and involvement. Adolescents are at a key age to exercise the mental muscles involved in planning, working effectively in groups, and engaging in authentic tasks that have a significance beyond the four walls of the classroom. While these goals have long been built into our curriculum and school structure, “Immersion Fridays” offer students the opportunity to engage in long-term projects, student-led businesses, and service activities that incorporate and apply what they have been doing in their academic classes. These experiences vary according to the time of year and interests of the students. They involve different groupings, and are designed to enhance the regular academic curriculum. 8th-year students continue to have their intensive writing workshop in addition to other immersion options.
Middle School Special Class
In addition to music history and art history, which are topics studied during the school day in conjunction with humanities class, Middle School students have dedicated classes in PE, music and art, as well as the option to participate in the Middle School chorus.
Guitar class is designed so that each Middle School student works at his, her, or their own pace, building on prior musical experiences and adding skills as time allows. Beginners learn basic chords, rhythmic strumming and how to read simple tablature, while more experienced students work on accompanying themselves or playing as an ensemble. Once basic skills are mastered, students can explore other string instruments like the ukulele or electric guitar.
Drumming class explores hand-drumming techniques, rhythms and traditions from cultures of the Arabic nations, West and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, North and South India and the traditional Western world. Students learn to contribute as active members of a musical ensemble, to improvise and to compose patterns and pieces. Drumming students also have the opportunity to perform during all-school traditions and celebrations.
The Middle School Chorus is a non-auditioned, elective ensemble that meets once a week. Chorus members sing as a mixed chorus (SAB and SATB music) with repertoire from a wide variety of cultures and historical periods. The MS Chorus performs during all-school ceremonies as well as at events within the wider community — including singing the National Anthem at New Britain Rock Cats, Hartford Yard Goats, and Hartford Wolfpack games — and attend adjudicated festivals and/or host choral clinicians on site.
Our goal for the Middle School artists is to gain even further confidence in their own abilities and choices, and to learn by taking artistic risks. At this age, we also strive to delve even deeper into observational drawing and painting by breaking down complex images into simple shapes. In addition, ceramics and other 3-D art is explored. We utilize our proficiency with the principles and elements of art to communicate our ideas visually, and the Middle School students are further exposed to the work of a variety of different artists. Middle School Art takes place once a week for 50 minutes. There are two Middle School art classes that occur simultaneously, so for half of the year, a student will focus on 2-D art (drawing, painting, printmaking) while the other half of the year, they will focus on ceramics and other 3-D art.
Health and fitness are important aspects for Middle School student growth. The physical fitness program helps the children learn about their bodies and understand the importance of establishing lifelong healthy habits. MS students have PE once a week, are encouraged to participate in our after-school athletics, and are expected to incorporate physical exercise into their lives as an extracurricular three days each week.
Middle School Curriculum
Our humanities curriculum focuses on the study of American history (during) and world history. History is taught through impressionistic lessons, traditional textbook work and independent research. Literature and writing are carefully woven into these studies. Our literature is chosen to complement the work we do in history, but also to explore different genres. Students are given lessons in effective writing and have lots of opportunities to practice writing essays, stories, poetry and reports. Vocabulary and grammar are a regular part of the humanities curriculum.
Science is taught in cycles so that each student studies three topics over the course of their years in Middle School. Year one concentrates on life science with a focus on human biology, and year two includes topics in earth and physical science. Our program’s emphasis is on the scientific method and discovery through labs, activities, field studies and research, as well as on design thinking and problem solving. Students learn to design, conduct and report on controlled experiments, with the appropriate use of laboratory apparatus and methods of measurement. In year three, students explore topics in physical science, genetics and evolution through continued labs and field studies. In addition to their continued experimental science curriculum, middle school students complete a science project that involves long-term research, writing, and a formal presentation.
Math is taught in groups based on development and learning style. Sixth grade students tend to begin in one of two places — some students are ready for a transition to algebra, and others will benefit from a focus on cementing competency with fractions, decimals and percentages as preparation for algebra. At the end of eighth grade, most students will have completed either an introduction to algebra course, or a thorough algebra course. Programs are matched to individual developmental needs and the best path to future success in math.
The four language skills – auditory, oral, reading and writing – are integrated into our Spanish program. When students reach sixth grade, they begin to work more directly with grammar. This work intensifies during seventh and eighth grades. In order to foster understanding and communication, we expose our students to Spanish in many forms and through many senses. By engaging our students in real life experiences, we hope to ignite their desire to develop competency.
Our Middle School Latin program promotes Latin comprehension through readings centered on the social and political life of Rome during the first century. The emphasis of the course is on expanding vocabulary and language skills and gaining insight into our cultural roots. To enhance this study, students engage in projects in mythology, historical and etymological research, play-acting, word games, and the introduction of everyday Latin expressions.
Life Skills classes address issues of particular concern to adolescents: family and peer relations, puberty, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and sex education. In addition to these topics, each grade has a particular focus for social and emotional growth during their year. Our theme for sixth grade is joining the Middle School community. Sixth-grade students discuss the privileges and responsibilities of community life and work together in our school’s garden. Seventh-grade students participate in a rite of passage program called “The Hero’s Journey.” This program helps students reflect on the challenges of growing up and encourages them to set personal goals. Our eighth-grade program encourages students to explore their connection to the world outside of our school. Eighth graders are given the opportunity to intern outside of school, research and present information about global issues and participate in a service field study. Respect and responsibility are emphasized throughout this three-year program.
Middle School After School Activities
Art Lab functions as an open-studio where artists are allowed the freedom of self-direction and to focus on works and mediums of their own choosing. We also discuss not only the formalistic qualities of a work of art, but also the intention or idea behind it, and encourage conceptual thinking. Middle School artists also have the opportunity to receive help and guidance in specific areas of their choosing. Art Lab takes place after school for 90 minutes once a week.
Music Lab is a primarily self-directed, collaborative time for musicians to work on repertoire of their choosing. Students sing together as an ensemble, and work on solo/small group pieces with the intent to hone vocal skills for performance. Music Lab may also include small instrumental collaborations incorporating singers, piano, cello, guitar, ukulele, drums, etc., with the option to perform in a recital in the spring.
Middle School Play
There are many ways for Middle School students to be part of the annual Middle School play, which meets after-school two days a week throughout the fall. Students can take on technical jobs including, lights, sound, props, costumes, and stage managing or can enjoy time in the spotlight.
Theater Lab is an opportunity for students to further explore aspects of the dramatic arts, including set design, film production, improvisation and playwriting. Theater Lab meets twice a week after school when the MS play is not in session.
Our educational philosophy espouses the importance of the development of the body as well as the mind. Athletic activities play an important role in preparing our students physically, morally, psychologically, and socially. The school provides opportunities through sports and other physical activities to prepare and inspire our students in preparation for lifelong physical activity and for continuing sports experiences as they move from WMS to secondary school environments.
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