Start Early: Building Community in Middle School

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:

  1. Start early in the year
  2. Make the time for experiences that build connections
  3. Create close circles of peer support as well as broader community connections
  4. Provide opportunities for leadership and mentorship that students can look forward to as a culmination of their middle school experience

Start Early

A critical component to building community with middle school students is to start early. At Moorestown Friends School we have a “Welcoming Foxes” program which connects newly admitted students with a current student to welcome and meet them over the summer. This outreach helps students who are new to Moorestown Friends School have a friend to welcome them on the first day of school. We also have eighth graders in their first leadership capacity come to school early on the first day to greet students as they arrive and answer questions about the start of the day. One final major event to start the year is our 7th grade trip to Washington, DC.  While the educational value of this experience certainly is clear, timing the trip early in the year (the end of October) allows the class to come together and build relationships and memories that form the foundation for their final two years of middle school.  These are three of the ways we get started early in the year building community that will sustain throughout a Moorestown Friends School student’s middle school experience.

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.