BY PRISCILLA ST. JOHN
It’s finally happened: your child has hit the middle school years. It’s a complicated time of physical and emotional growth and development that can be both challenging and rewarding for parents and children alike. One of the most important choices you can make as a parent is where your child will go to school.
What factors should you consider when deciding on the right school for your child? First, think of what kind of student your child is and find a school with a curriculum that will provide the appropriate challenge.
An Appropriate Challenge
Dan Quesnel, Middle School Director at Forsyth Country Day School (FCDS) and the parent of a sixth-grader himself, advised, “You want your child to be challenged, but at a level at which they can be successful.”
Personal Attention & Invested Faculty
Parents should seek schools with reasonably small class sizes. “Classes should be small enough to provide really individualized attention,” he said. “This allows teachers to help students who need more assistance and offers greater challenges for those who are already excelling.” In addition, keeping numbers small allows for real relationship building. “We have an amazing faculty,” Quesnel said. “They are totally committed to their kids, and they get to know them as individuals inside the classroom and out.”
Kris Krueger, who teaches Spanish and French in Forsyth’s Middle School, agrees. “I love teaching middle school kids,” she said. “We teachers attend our students’ sporting events and concerts whenever possible, and there is a real sense of family.”
Many Pathways to Success
Another key component of finding a great middle school is to look for a variety of opportunities that will allow students to find their own unique path to success. “When students first enter middle school, they don’t know what they like,” Quesnel explained. “We try to expose them to a broad range of experiences.”
Beginning in fifth grade (when Forsyth Country Day’s middle school begins), students are required to take technology, visual art, vocal music, and PE, in addition to the core courses of daily language arts, science, social studies, mathematics, and conversational Spanish (French and Mandarin Chinese become options in seventh grade). In sixth grade, they can also play sports. In all middle school grades, students can participate in drama and clubs.
Beginning in the seventh grade, in addition to the five core courses, students can focus on what they enjoy the most—whether that’s daily orchestra, PE, forensic science, creative writing, programming and digital design, visual art, or choir. Each of these electives meets every day. “By the time they reach seventh and eighth grade, they’re starting to know what they like, and we want to give them the opportunities to explore their interests in greater depth,” Quesnel added.
Positive School Culture and Character Education Program
Because middle school is a time when students are just discovering who they are and where they fit into the world, it’s important to look for a school with a positive culture,” stated Amasa Monroe, one of three guidance counselors at FCDS. “It’s important to have a comprehensive character and guidance program that teaches children to respect themselves and others and emphasizes positive behavior,” he said. “You want to look for a community in which your child feels accepted and valued.”
Mrs. Krueger agrees. “Our character program, which focuses on integrity, respect, responsibility, and compassion, is an integral part of daily school life,” she said. “Teachers and students have really embraced the importance of living out these virtues, and it is exciting to be a part of this dynamic.”
Let Kids Weigh In
Finally, let your middle school-age child have some input on choosing his or her school, Mr. Monroe suggests. “Involve them in the process,” he said. “It shows them that you think their opinion matters, and that empowers them.”
Students are encouraged not only to tour FCDS, but to come and shadow a student for a day in order to get a feeling of what the school is really like. “We love to have prospective students visit,” Mr. Quesnel said. “When they come for the day and experience our character program, orchestra, daily language instruction, STEAM class, or the maker space, they are getting a great sense of what sets us apart—and we think it’s pretty incredible.”