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Grade 8 students engaging in team building activities led by faculty and the Head of Middle and Upper School. 

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.”

Grade 6 students making use of a quiet hallway to      engage in thoughtful group work. 

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?

On the sidelines of a soccer game, Upper School students discuss previous plays with their coach.

  • An environment that values individuality. Your child is an individual who should be celebrated for their unique strengths, interests, and passions. In a small school with low faculty-to-student ratios, teachers can get to know each child in their classrooms. When teachers know each student, they can engage with them in meaningful ways, ensure that individuality is celebrated, and minimize the collective desire to fit in with the crowd.
  • A robust and diverse middle school program. A full, well-rounded academic and co-curricular program establishes a balance between providing students with challenges and with opportunities to experience individual success. Every student should be a thinker, reader, artist, athlete, musician, and scientist within the course of the school day.
  • A connected school community with opportunities for leadership. In an intentional preschool - Grade 8 school, middle school students are the leaders of the school community. Programs that connect older and younger students together contribute to a positive school community and allow all middle school students to step into leadership roles.
  • A high school placement process that commits to finding the right fit for each child. By the time a child is nearing the end of the academic journey from preschool - Grade 8, they are often ready for a change. A preschool - Grade 8 environment provides the chance for you, your child, their guidance counselor or Head of Upper School, and admissions directors or counselors at local high schools to collaborate in finding the high school environment will fit your child best. The placement process should support your child in finding a high school that will meet their needs and provide the space for them to continue to grow.

Learn more about middle school at Ridgefield Academy! Contact Director of Enrollment Dave Suter at to schedule an individual admissions appointment.