Subjects of Study and Extracurriculars
Early adolescence is an exciting and demanding time of rapid growth, enthusiasm for learning, and increasing independence. The overall goal of the division is to create an environment in which each student can truthfully say, “I count, I care, I can.”
Our Middle School Advisory Program provides a system of support for students by designating a dedicated advisor for families and teachers to help build toward each child’s success. Each student’s advisor monitors his or her progress and offers encouragement, support, and assistance on academic, behavioral, and developmental issues. As the primary advocate for the Middle Schooler, the advisor attempts to establish a close rapport with the student as they work together to determine strategies for strengthening skills or study habits, improving time management, and directing attention and energy appropriately.
During a weekly advisory period, advisors lead discussions and facilitate activities on a variety of topics of special importance to Middle Schoolers. This also serves as a forum for discussing learning strategies, social skills, and events in the larger community.
The study of English and history is integrated as much as possible in the Middle School curriculum. Teachers use literature to enhance and extend history subjects. In fifth and sixth grades, humanities is taught by the homeroom teacher as one unified subject, and in seventh and eighth grades, English and history are separate periods with similar themes and approaches.
The history program broadens student perspectives by providing a firm foundation in the study of diverse civilizations, cultures, and countries. Students are encouraged to formulate and express individual opinions, and courses emphasize the accumulation of skills such as map and geography proficiency, understanding time lines and dates, recognizing cause and effect relationships, and critical thinking. Interactive computer software, films, literature, and art complement course discussions.
In the English program, students are exposed to a wide variety of literary genres, including novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Literature discussions and close readings of selected passages happen at every grade level with attention paid to vocabulary development, literal and inferential comprehension, the drawing of valid conclusions based on evidence, and the identification of literary devices.
Developing sound writing skills is a major goal of the English curriculum as well. The writing process involves collaboration and feedback from both classmates and teachers, and as students’ ideas grow increasingly complex, students are exposed to grammatical structures that facilitate their written expression. At each grade level different forms of composition, such as persuasive essays, autobiographical essays, personal experience narratives, analytical papers, thesis papers, and research papers, are taught.
The overall goals of our mathematics program in the Middle School are for students to develop problem-solving skills, learn the skills and concepts that they will need in future mathematics courses and subjects, and learn to communicate and reason mathematically as they gain an appreciation of the value of how the subject is woven through their everyday lives.
Lessons for fifth through eighth graders expand students’ knowledge of numbers, computation, estimation, measurement, geometry, statistics, probability, patterns and functions, and fundamental algebraic concepts. Our mathematics curriculum is spiral in nature, with topics being revisited each year in order to deepen and extend the understanding of concepts and their application. To maximize learning, we offer extra support for students through math lab, opportunities for students to participate in national math contests, and enrichment groups for all grades.
Through the use of a hands-on, laboratory approach, our Middle Schoolers develop analytical and reasoning skills as they make hypotheses, conduct experiments, record observations, draw conclusions, and present their findings. Class discussions, debates, oral reports, and formal lab and research projects facilitate mastery of content, and the integration of environmental studies into our course work helps students understand the role of science in dealing with social and technological changes facing the world. All fifth through eighth grade students have an opportunity to apply scientific information by organizing and analyzing a research paper and project during the school’s bi-annual Science and Technology Fair.
The study of a foreign language gives students a unique perspective on the world and promotes tolerance, diversity, and solidarity within our global community. Language learning allows us to bridge cultural barriers while stimulating intellectual curiosity.
The study of foreign language at BFS addresses four traditional and vital skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. We teach these skills under the broad umbrella of culture and tradition. Beginning in fifth grade, students have the choice to study either French or Spanish through eighth grade. In addition to their study of a modern language, students begin studying Latin in 7th grade. The introduction to Latin is a two-year curriculum.
Our Middle School visual arts curriculum expands on the challenges and ideas explored in our Lower School visual arts classes. Art concepts such as composition, color, form, line, and pattern are discussed and applied. Using resources such as books, prints, slides and video, art history, and cultural connections are discussed for most projects. Each semester, one art project relates directly to another area of the curriculum.
In fifth and sixth grades, all students take art studio for one semester twice a week, and ceramics for one semester twice a week. Fifth grade projects in the recent past have included plaster carving of Egyptian gods, mosaics in the style of ancient Greece and Rome, extended image paintings, drawing from observation and imagination, and sculptures of fake cakes. Sixth grade projects in recent years include tempera paintings from observation, stained-glass rose windows, drawings, tile niches with Islamic-inspired patterning and pen and ink drawings. Seventh and eighth grade students choose semester-long elective classes such as painting, drawing, ceramics, woodworking, video, or video animation.
Through discussions and group and individual critiques, all visual arts students learn to appreciate each individual voice and the great range and diversity that art provides. Students work in a variety of media, including tempera paint, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, cray-pas, pen and ink, collage, printmaking, and cardboard construction.
Our Middle School students actively participate in non-competitive classroom environments that encourage collaboration in dance, drama, and music. Self-assessment, peer critique, and audience skills are developed throughout the creative process. Course work includes experiential exercises, rehearsal, performance, observation, and analysis. In fifth grade students take dance and either chorus or orchestra. Sixth graders take dance and drama and have a choice of chorus, orchestra or musical explorations. Seventh and eighth graders choose among electives of dance, drama, chorus, orchestra, and jazz band.
The physical education program develops the child physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually through physical activity. Each class includes a period of vigorous exercise, as well as instruction in skills. Our Middle School program includes a blend of cooperative and traditional games. Typical activities include volleyball, soccer, hockey, softball, cooperative games, trust activities, tag games, badminton, and basketball. Students also have the opportunity to create their own games. Each unit begins with the learning of fundamental skills. Drills involving game simulations are used to develop an understanding of game fundamentals, eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness, speed, and endurance. When students have learned the basic skills of a sport, actual games are played. The competitive spirit is tempered by an emphasis on good sportsmanship.
The rapidity of physical growth, the changing perceptions of self and others, alternate feelings of self-confidence and self-consciousness, independence, peer pressure, concern with physical appearance, and changes in social relationships are areas of great importance to the early adolescent. Our Middle School program addresses these issues in health classrooms designed to be a safe environment for students to share and discuss in open, trusting surroundings.
Students study a wide range of physical, social, and emotional issues which affect them as adolescents and as members of society. Units of study include growth and physical health, drugs (including alcohol), gender issues, the physiological and emotional aspects of human sexuality, and many others. A primary goal of this class is to arm students with stronger factual, emotional, and social processing skills, so that they will be more equipped to make healthy decisions throughout their lives.
Fifth and sixth grade students take a study skill class two times per week. This class focuses on organization, note-taking skills, test-taking skills, and study skills. Students requiring additional reinforcement of English language skills also receive small-group instruction.
In seventh and eighth grades, organization and study skills continue to be addressed within the context of each student’s content area classes. Students are taught how to organize and maintain a notebook, how to take notes from a textbook or lecture, and how to prepare for a test. Specific steps are taught for writing a research paper. As students move through the grades, they are expected to become increasingly independent in applying these strategies and skills.
In the Middle School we are committed to enhancing the educational experience through engaging and age-appropriate technologies. Middle School students use Google Chromebooks in all of their classes and have access to various Makerspaces throughout the school.
Students also learn how to navigate the access that technology affords through the 5-8 Advisory curriculum and Technology classes.
All Middle Schoolers take part in overnight trips designed to enhance both academic and social skills. Fifth and sixth graders spend three days during the winter in the Catskill Mountains at the Frost Valley Environmental Center exploring the natural environment, participating in trust- and community-building exercises, and engaging in winter recreational activities.
Seventh graders travel to Philadelphia as an integral part of their study of United States History. They visit important national monuments and museums which deepen their understanding of our democratic institutions. Eighth graders start the year off with an overnight trip to establish group and individual goals with a focus on leadership. The class also takes a three-day trip in the spring to Cape Cod, a culmination of their year-long study of Earth Science.