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The Importance of the Middle School Years

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”- Aristotle

The middle school years encompass the most transformative experiences in adolescents’ lives. It is a defining moment where they discover their identity of who they are as individuals, students, future professionals and family members.

During this time, parents and schools should be in close partnership, helping to develop the habits of the mind and heart that will form future engaged and thoughtful citizens. And choosing a school that challenges students to develop in this way is key.

Laura Bell, a middle school Dean at Oakcrest School in Vienna, VA, weighed in on the subject when she noted, “This is the first time students are asking the questions: What kind of learner am I? What are my individual and unique strengths and where might they take me in the future? Having a teacher who meets your child where s/he is academically and socially is just the beginning of the wonderful adventure of raising lifelong learners, who will think critically and make ethical decisions.”

Effective educators inspire students to give their full potential and own their learning process. Teachers should know how their own expertise can dramatically impact their students’ academic achievement and social development. Schools and home have to work collaboratively with each other in order to better address the needs of both students and their families.

In addition, cultivating character through the curriculum adds measurable value to a student’s experience. Gone are the days when a student can say, “My mom didn’t tell me this was due today.”

An article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework” explains that giving your child more personal responsibility helps him or her become better prepared for the future. The middle school years begin to reinforce responsibility and ownership. When choosing where your child will learn these life skills, a few important guideposts can help parents along the way.

Parent Partnership: Look for a school that shares your family values. A school with a strong parent partnership will more effectively foster your child’s development during these years of self-discovery.

Role Models: Look for a school that provides a strong mentoring program where your child can develop a trusting teacher/student partnership. Hearing messages that align with your vision and values from another trusted source helps young people begin to make those values their own.

Curriculum: Find a school that will challenge your child in all areas of his or her life: mind, body and spirit. A school that inspires your child to try new things such as music, arts, sports, languages and clubs strengthens character and encourages risk taking.

Middle school is a crucial stage in your child’s life. Choose a school that inspires your child to deepen his or her intellectual and personal growth and to make a positive impact on our society. Striving for that excellence is an art won by training and habituation.


Michael Barvick is Director of Institutional Advancement at Oakcrest School, an independent school in Vienna, VA. To learn more about how Oakcrest provides a strong parent partnership, mentoring and a well rounded curriculum contact Oakcrest School Admissions at admissions@oakcrest.org to schedule a tour of our new campus.

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Washington FAMILY Staff

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