“The record is 106,” School Counselor Michele Flowers announced, initiating a challenge to Ridgefield Academy seventh graders. The challenge? Keep a large beach ball in the air, as a group, for as long as possible. Sitting on the floor of Hope Hall with their class advisors, the seventh graders were excited to attempt to best the record of a previous group.
With no plan in place, however, the ball only stayed up for a few seconds during their first attempt. Flowers asked the students to consider what didn’t work, and the group realized that they had not communicated with one another or created a collective strategy. After agreeing to spread throughout the room and try to avoid talking over one another, their results improved dramatically, and they were able to surpass the record.
Working Together is Key
Flowers posed questions to the students after completing the task. How can the takeaways from this experience apply to the school year? What are some of the goals the seventh grade can set as a class for the school year?
Below are some of the goals suggested by students:
Support each other, which will benefit the entire class
Clean up after oneself
Respect the school and school property
Help classmates out throughout the day
Build up friendships
Encourage one another to do the right thing
As part of the support system that guides students throughout their middle school years, faculty advisors helped keep the ball afloat. Advisor and Spanish teacher Jessica Brooks expressed her goal of helping Grade 7 students navigate conflicts and difficult situations during the upcoming school year. When experiencing a conflict or difficult situation, Flowers reminded the group that it may be helpful to seek support because of the thoughts and feelings that can arise.
“Thoughts and feelings are never wrong; they just are,” Flowers said. “It’s what you do with the thought or feeling that makes the difference.”
Advisor and science teacher Mac Rand emphasized the importance of recognizing that each person is part of a group and considering that group when making decisions.
“Act in a way that supports the needs of the bigger group. You are one of 33 people in the seventh grade,” he said. “We respect individuality in every one of you. Think about what it means to be in this community of the seventh grade.”
Above all, the students and the adults who guide and support them concluded that “Working together is key” to create a successful school community.
Student Leaders Embrace the Challenge
When the eighth graders—the student leaders of RA/LP’s school community—took on the challenge, it went slightly differently. Already demonstrating their leadership skills, the eighth graders communicated with one another with ease. On their final round with the beach ball, the eighth grade achieved 361 taps, impressing both their advisors and Flowers with their communication skills.
Having excelled during the challenge, Flowers posed a different question: “When does our communication become its weakest?” Arguing was the students’ decisive response. While communicating how to best keep the ball afloat, the students sometimes disagreed. The arguments caused distraction and noise; it was most beneficial when only one student spoke at a time.
So, how were the disagreements solved? A quiet voice in the corner—the students were not even sure who—had pointed out the unnecessary arguing during the game. The students listened to that voice, and a cohesive game ensued. It was powerful to recognize that although there were louder individuals in the group, a quieter voice was able to strongly influence the game’s direction.
Supporting Middle Schoolers at RA
When students enter the middle school environment, they begin to juggle more than they did in the elementary years. Academics become more challenging, leadership opportunities arise, social dynamics evolve, athletics become competitive, and students experience both physical and emotional changes. It is important for middle school students to know that they have a strong support system at school, not only from the adults in their school community, but also from one another.
From a third grade teacher initiating the question, “What is a friend?” in class to an eighth grader hugging their kindergarten buddy at morning drop-off, kindness is taught and acted upon at RA. Throughout the Grades 6, 7, and 8 years, all students embrace leadership opportunities, participate in service learning, and join athletic teams. Whether a quiet or loud voice in the classroom, on the field, or on the stage, every student is known, valued, and celebrated. RA nurtures beyond academic or athletic success; students become kind, confident individuals who think beyond themselves.