By Shira Fagan, Class VI Dean

Inside a butterfly’s chrysalis, the caterpillar digests itself from the inside out, literally breaking down its body into slime at the cellular level. This transformation is messy, painful, and appears chaotic, but it is really their body doing exactly what it needs to do. And the thing that emerges sixteen days later, the butterfly, is truly a marvel. 

As Class VI Dean, I spend a great deal of time with middle schoolers, the chrysalis stage of a child’s school years. Shrouded in mystery and full of slime, middle school is a time of rapid change, social instability, and brave exploration. I frequently get questions about how the school supports the transition from Lower to Middle school. 

Lower School is a time for building good habits, and learning in close proximity to adults of influence. Class VI takes that powerful foundation, and asks students to apply it beyond the oversight of adults. Teachers lay out clear boundaries and expectations, and students have an opportunity to make their choices. As a parent, this is the scary part. Let’s take lunchtime as an example. The Class VI team teaches the rules surrounding lunch, makes sure every student understands the rules, and then gives kids the freedom to follow them. When students break the rules, which they will because they are children, we will be there to right the ship. Middle School is neither the locked, monitored playground of their youth, or the free-wheeling trip for fast food of their Upper School years. 

Our Class VI school day is set up for this. While students in classes VII-XII will need to navigate different teachers, buildings, rooms, and classmates in every block, Class VI has Humanities. Humanities replaces both English and History blocks, and students see their Humanities teacher during Morning Meeting as well. This model bridges the change from Lower to Middle School, and students come to see their Humanities teacher as their “person.” Humanities teachers walk students through as many of the new events as possible to set kids up for success. We teach them how to check Canvas, how to behave in an assembly, how to be a responsible locker user, how to ask someone to dance. We also help them learn the business of being a student; how to sign in or out at the front desk, how to visit the nurse, how to take responsibility for our mistakes, and how to put away our screens. I like to remember that they’ve only been on this planet about a decade, and there are lots of new things to discover. 

A parent can support this transition in the same ways the school does: build independence, set clear expectations, and expect lots of mistakes along the way. More concretely, I recommend laying out your family’s rules surrounding language and behavior, giving students incrementally more freedom, and approaching the inevitable mistakes with perspective. Middle Schoolers can be prickly, messy and stuck in their own heads. They are also curious, creative, stubborn, passionate and even kind, with the guidance and support from all the adults who care about them. Just like the butterfly, this time is messy, painful and appears chaotic, but this necessary metamorphosis allows for the butterfly to emerge.

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