The years that fall in the middle of a student’s academic journey from preschool to high school are sometimes referred to as “the forgotten middle”. Less attention has been paid to the importance of the upper elementary grades and middle school in recent years, according to the ACT. The middle school years, however, should not be overlooked: they play a key role in guiding preparation for high school and beyond.

Middle school is a navigation of change in many ways, beginning with the transition out of elementary education and concluding with the transition into high school. With a variety of changes happening at once, it is especially important that children are in a supportive school environment—one that dedicates significant resources and attention to the middle school years. A healthy middle school environment fosters the emergence of confident, self-assured graduates prepared for success in any high school setting.
At Ridgefield Academy, the first step to creating a healthy middle school environment is understanding who middle schoolers are and the questions they are facing. One focus over the past several years, according to Head of Middle and Upper School Clinton Howarth, has been educating the faculty on development at different ages.
In a recent Take-A-Look Tuesday event, Howarth said, “We have to operate from a place of understanding that the dominant narrative in the life of a middle schooler is trying to solve the question of, ‘Who am I?’ That will play out as both a student and as a developing person.”
In the middle school years, academic strengths, interests, and learning styles become better defined. When students begin to stand out in different areas, the desire to belong and “fit in” often naturally emerges. The default safe option is to try to be like everyone else.

The approach at Ridgefield Academy encourages the opposite: embracing individuality, rather than stifling it. Each student has the opportunity to take risks and meet new challenges, as well as to experience individual successes in areas where they feel comfortable and thrive.

“All of our collaborative work - teachers, coaches, and advisors - aims toward celebrating and recognizing each child’s individual strengths,” Howarth said. “We help them find the time and space to celebrate their own unique qualities.”

In middle school, it is just as important to celebrate success as it is in the younger years. For many students, middle school is often the first time school-related anxieties emerge. Students are adjusting to a different school environment and heavier workload, seeking to maintain positive peer relationships, and looking ahead to the upcoming transition to high school. At a time when confidence can be compromised, a strong support system that values each student and celebrates their successes is critical.

So, what should you look for when considering the options for your child’s middle school education?

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Kindergarten is a critical year of learning, when children explore the world around them, find what sparks their curiosity, and discover that learning can be joyful. Learn about how the foundation established in Ridgefield Academy's kindergarten classrooms prepares students for a lifetime of positive learning.

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