Middle School

 

The Schechter Manhattan middle school is structured to meet the developmental needs of the middle school years. As middle school age students go through an intense process of physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth, they move along a continuum from dependence to independence. At the middle school level, our goal is to give students support and appropriate boundaries as they move along this journey.

 

As in the elementary school, the educational approach throughout the middle school continues to be constructivist, and it is a wholly appropriate fit with the developmental stage of middle school students.

 

Hallmarks of a Schechter Manhattan education, such as inquiry‐based learning, activities that promote deep thinking, and student‐centered instruction, continue to be a part of the student’s school experience. Classrooms that foster inquiry and hands‐on investigation allow students of middle school age to use their natural energy and enthusiasm to drive their learning. Learning activities that develop depth of thought and analytical skills help middle‐level students stretch their emerging abstract thinking abilities. Student‐centered instruction gives students of this developmental stage the opportunity to have voice in their classroom learning communities.

 

In the middle school, increasing academic expectations are coupled with growing student independence. Students have separate teachers for each subject: Humanities, Jewish Studies, Math, Science, and Hebrew. This represents a significant increase of responsibility on the students, as they are expected to adjust to different teachers’ expectations, keep track of their many assignments, and move from class to class on their own. Middle school teachers work with each student to develop the skills to manage these responsibilities, which is critical preparation for the challenges of high school and beyond.

 

Increased academic expectations are also apparent in the assessment of student progress. In the middle school formal assessments, tests and quizzes become more prominent. In addition, in each of year of the middle school, students demonstrate mastery of an area of study by presenting exhibitions in front of members of the school community. Students also take ownership of their academic progress by developing portfolios of their work, reflecting on their progress and setting goals for growth.

 

The social and emotional aspects of middle school students’ lives are paramount to their healthy growth. An advisory teacher, who meets with students daily for check-ins and formally twice a week, is responsible for overseeing a student’s whole educational experience and is the primary liaison between school and home on issues relating to a child’s progress. During advisory period, students have a forum in which to share their thoughts, question difficult situations, and confront ideas that will have a direct impact on their developing identity and academic, social, spiritual, and moral self. Students study human growth and development in a yearly health course and reach out to the community through year long community service projects. Girls spend time reflecting on gender issues and their Jewish identities each month in the Rosh Chodesh: It’s A Girl Thing program, and boys develop media awareness through a Jewish values‐based curriculum.

 

Middle school students are also given an increasing voice and expanded role in their school lives. Students volunteer to participate in student committees, follow their interests and passions during activities period, and shape the tone of our daily minyan (prayer service) by serving as student leaders and gabbaim. Middle school students also have a wider range of extracurricular opportunities, including after‐school interscholastic athletics.

 

The Schechter Manhattan Israel Study Tour is a beautiful and fitting capstone experience that changes the lives of our eighth graders. During their two‐week tour, soon‐to‐be graduates make connections between their Jewish studies in school, the powerful personal experiences in Israel, and their developing Jewish identities. When they return, they complete the final phases of a lengthy and intensive process of self‐reflection, culminating in the graduation exhibition presentations. They are challenged to look at their Schechter Manhattan experiences and relationships, and reflect on who they have become and what is most important in their lives. Schechter Manhattan graduates face their futures with a clear sense of their values and goals.

Advisory

The middle school provides a safe haven in which each student experiences and comes to terms with the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual changes that s/he is undergoing. The key means of providing this support is the advisory system. In each class, one of the teachers also serves as advisor. Advisory groups meet regularly and foster a family feeling and a sense of community and friendship among the students in the class. As well, under the guidance of the advisor, the students as a group help to manage their own affairs, plan their own activities, and engage regularly in discussions, role‐plays, and problem‐solving activities about developmental issues, such as friendship, independence, responsibility, physical development and sexuality, and peer pressure. They also address interpersonal challenges and dilemmas when the need arises.

Humanities

The middle school humanities program is an integrated sequence of studies that incorporates English language and literature and history and social studies in explorations of a single overarching theme each year. In the sixth grade, the year‐long focus is on world cultures and the big ideas they gave rise to; the seventh grade studies the American political and legal system; eighth graders spend the year examining the difference between the American dream and the American reality.

The English program is designed to extend students’ reading and writing skills, focusing increasingly on skills of close reading for meaning, interpretation, and analysis and on the clarity and power of their written expression. Students’ literary tastes are broadened and deepened through their reading of novels, including both classics and contemporary adolescent literature; short stories, plays, poetry, fairy tales and myths, and essays.

 

In the history and social studies program, students grapple with abstract concepts that emerge from their study of such issues as the individual and society; multiculturalism; causality in history vs. the role of the hero; and rights and responsibilities. Extended research and preparations for dramatic simulations of complex historical events root their newly acquired abstractions in reality.

Hebrew

The Hebrew program in the middle school is based on the NETA-CET curriculum. The NETA-CET program is sequential and based on a structured linguistic progression. The curriculum consists of four levels, of which our school teaches the first three (the advanced level is intended for 11th and 12th grade students in Jewish day schools). The curriculum consists of five levels (Bishvil Ha’Ivrit books 1-5) combined with an interactive website that enhances and supports learning through audio files, videos and interactive educational games. Lessons are centered on themes of interest to young people, ranging from computers and sports to friendship and freedom. Each theme is presented from three perspectives: Jewish tradition, modern Israeli culture, and general world knowledge, including art, music, literature, poetry, news articles, and Jewish texts, in layers of language ranging from biblical Hebrew to current scientific Hebrew terminology and common colloquialisms.

 

The curriculum adheres to a steady pace that allows students to experience tangible progress in their Hebrew proficiency. The curriculum specifies clear goals and measures of achievement and is accompanied by standard assessments.

 

Prior to entering the program, each student’s level is determined by a placement test. Each of the three levels level taught in the middle school includes students from each grade, so that students in every grade may study at the level best suited to their needs: AlphaNeta (preparatory program), beginners’, or intermediate beginners, intermediate or advanced.

Jewish Studies

In the middle school years, Jewish Studies classes continue to deepen each student’s dramatic encounter with God and Torah, personally as well as collectively, through text study as well as experiential learning. As the students mature as learners, their facility and independence with the foundational texts of Jewish tradition markedly increase. Jewish studies is organized to include classes focused on selected Jewish texts and beit midrash learning, during which students explore Jewish Studies areas of personal interest.

 

In Tanach (Bible), students complete their study of the epic narrative of Sh’mot (Exodus); in addition, they move beyond the narrative portions of Torah and study legal and poetic sections, often in connection with an overarching theme or concept which is integrated with their humanities or science studies. Other books of Tanach are excerpted in order to give students a broadly representative experience of the range and sweep of biblical literature. The method of study remains fundamentally unchanged from the upper elementary years: students continue to work in chevruta (study pairs) to develop their own basic comprehension of the text, pose questions, generate interpretations, and compare their own interpretations with those of classical and modern commentators.

 

In Torah Sheb’al Peh (rabbinic oral tradition), the focus shifts from Mishnah to Talmud. Students progress through a carefully graduated program of study, beginning with simpler texts – shorter, more Hebrew and less Aramaic, on familiar topics – and proceeding to lengthier, more complex Talmudic passages. Working in chevruta, they gain an in‐depth understanding not only of the content of rabbinic discourse, but also its language, its structure, and its legal, spiritual, and conceptual implications. By the end of their middle school years, students are able to learn an unseen passage of Talmud of intermediate difficulty with the use of study aids such as an Aramaic dictionary, without their teacher’s frequent intervention or explanation.

 

The central rite of passage during the middle school years, becoming bar or bat mitzvah, provides multiple points of entry for students to connect with their spiritual selves and to find personal meaning: the personal mitzvah project, through which students choose their own individual mitzvah to explore and experiment with; the community mitzvah project, through which they study about an interpersonal mitzvah and engage in it in an ongoing, sustained way; and the Jewish life skills program, which includes, in particular, each student’s guided independent study of his/her parashah (Torah portion) and preparation of a d’var Torah.

Math

The Middle School math program reinforces and builds upon the students’ foundation of basic
operations and understanding of simple concepts by applying these skills and insights to increasingly complex problems. The three central fields of study in the middle school are rational numbers, algebra,and geometry. In each, students explore foundational concepts by investigating relationships, solving equations and problems, and making use of these ideas and skills in meaningful real‐world applications.

 

The subject matter of all three fields is treated in an integrated way in each of the middle school years; in other words, algebra is studied in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, as is geometry, as are rational numbers. In each grade, students are encouraged to proceed at their own pace and are challenged to solve extension problems and explore supplementary topics when they have mastered the content of a particular unit of study. Many middle school students complete the equivalent of Algebra I by the end of eighth grade, qualifying them to gain admission to and thrive in highly selective high school math programs.

Science

In science, students are introduced to laboratory techniques through experiments and explorations. The middle school science program builds on earlier experiences with observing, measuring, and recording phenomena, making hypotheses, drawing conclusions, and writing up lab reports, to emphasize testing hypotheses under controlled conditions and marshaling evidence to support inferences. In each of the middle school years, one unit of study is devoted to each of the traditional branches of science: physical science, life science, and earth and environmental studies.