From the desk of Middle School Director Kimberly Clarkson
Sense of community is often viewed as an intangible; something difficult to measure but that you can sense when you encounter a group with this strength at its core. At Moorestown Friends Middle School we work hard to create an environment where students feel safe, welcome, and accepted for who they are. Developing a strong sense of community within a school takes time, effort, and intentionality, particularly in middle school. At a time in their lives when they are seeking independence from adults and pushing boundaries, middle school students thrive when they are able to be a part of such a community of their peers.
In this four-part series, we will outline four key elements to building community:
- Start early in the year
- Make the time for experiences that build connections
- Create close circles of peer support as well as broader community connections
- Provide opportunities for leadership and mentorship that students can look forward to as a culmination of their middle school experience
Make the Time
It is vital to carve out the time for community building, which pays off in students feeling safe and comfortable in the classroom in the long term. On the first Friday of school, Moorestown Friends Middle School students are engaged in special activities and do not have their regularly scheduled classes. On “First Friday,” students participate in team building activities in their grades and advisories (described further in blog #3). Our eighth grade engages in a morning of leadership training and in the afternoon begin planning for the Mixed Grade Assembly (described further in blog #3) and their work in their 8th Grade Committees (described further in blog #4). Our seventh grade spends the day engaged in team-building activities at Camp Dark Waters in Medford, NJ. Our fifth and sixth grade students participate in an expanded on-campus orientation. This allows students at both grade levels to further connect with each other, allows fifth graders new to the Middle School to learn more about what the year will bring, acknowledges the differences between our fifth and sixth grade programs (there is a considerable increase in autonomy and independence in sixth grade), and provides our sixth graders with their first leadership opportunity within the Middle School. Throughout the year we continue to provide opportunities to build community within smaller and larger groups to make Moorestown Friends Middle School a place where students grow and thrive.
While it often may seem like vibrant communities build themselves, in reality little is left to chance when it comes to creating a well-functioning, tight-knit community. Many view the middle school years as tumultuous. I prefer to think of them as a beautifully dynamic time of rapid change and development, during which students are primed to take on additional responsibility, learn and refine new skills, and support and grow with their peers. While building community in a middle school takes focused time and ongoing effort, the work we have done in our Moorestown Friends School Middle School already pays off in students and families who are more invested in and connected to each other.
Middle School Director Kimberly Clarkson is a seasoned educator with a broad range of experiences in independent schools. Prior to joining Moorestown Friends in 2015, Kimberly served at Sidwell Friends in Washington D.C., teaching social studies, math, and Spanish and acting as the Sixth Grade Coordinator and Middle School Diversity Coordinator. She earned a reputation for integrating service learning and innovative pedagogy into the classroom and was named a 2014-15 National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future. Kimberly also taught Spanish and pre-algebra at Turning Point School in Culver City, CA and was a Spanish and Italian teacher at The Newport School in Kensington, MD. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Scripps College and an M.A. in secondary education from Loyola Marymount University.