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Belonging and Advocacy in Middle School
Jonathan Chein, Head of Middle School

The following reflection was sent to middle school parents by Head of Middle School Jonathan Chein in early November.

Two weeks ago, Middle School Chaplain Matt Stroud took some time during Friday’s middle school chapel to reflect on some of the standout moments of the first quarter. We heard about classes and entire grades coming together. We revisited the impactful chapel talks given by students and teachers alongside the diverse offerings of musical performances shared during chapel. Our gratitude extended to our senior buddies, and applause was given to our teammates and coaches on sports teams. Together, we recalled the sense of belonging within the larger school community during the all-school convocation and pep rally while also acknowledging the growth within our much smaller advisories. It was a fantastic reminder of the simple joys of being part of a community like ESD, which can sometimes be overlooked amidst the shuffle of our busy schedules.

The second quarter has started with its own flurry of activities worthy of celebration. Theater classes showcased their initial round of works, and singers across all three school divisions shared their harmonies and melodies at the all-school choir concert. Additionally, the Eagle Gallery is already brimming with student work in anticipation of the Fall All-School Art Show.

Middle school leadership on Halloween.

Halloween brought its magic to middle school. It started with the fifth and twelfth-grade buddy dress-up day, followed by the fifth and sixth-grade Halloween Party last Saturday, culminating in Tuesday’s annual Advisory Halloween Costume contest. Choosing advisory-themed costumes typically begins well before October 1, and the lunchtime presentation of advisory costumes on Halloween day remains one of my favorite ESD traditions. The joy of dressing up and expressing creativity aside, focusing on group costumes fosters inclusivity, making the experience different from typical school Halloween celebrations.

Another day I look forward to this time of year is conference day. I cherish the opportunity to sit with my child and listen to their thoughts and reflections on their progress in school. Rumor has it that in some families, kids routinely volunteer information about their classes, struggles, and accomplishments with their parents. For the rest of us, having time set aside and our children prepared to reflect on their learning with their parents is genuinely appreciated. If you haven’t already, I suggest asking your child what they plan or hope to discuss at their next conference on February 28. A good follow-up is to ask what actions are they going to continue/start/stop to help make that plan a reality? What are things I, as a parent, can do to help support you in that plan? Maybe it’s helping your child arrange extra help sessions with a teacher before or after tests. Maybe it’s helping organize their backpack or binder each week, or maybe it’s sitting down as a family each weekend to map out the upcoming week and all the related logistics. Whatever you come up with, I’ve found that tying the conversation back to goals that came out of conferences results in a lot less pushback from my children than many of my inquiries and suggestions related to their school life. An essential part of this process is to refer to these goals and supporting actions during spring conferences in February. Doing so allows students to connect their efforts to their results. As a parent, it’s nice to have children who are doing well academically; however, the real goal is for your children to make the connection between their actions and the results of those actions. Success is not an accident but rather a result of decisions and habits. That is one of the most critical lessons in middle school, and the reflective nature of parent-student-advisor conferences can be tremendously supportive in helping students learn that lesson.