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.