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Five things to look for when choosing a middle school

This is what your child will look like at the end of 8th grade. “Middle school is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your child’s life,” says Jeff Keith, principal at West End Middle IB World School. “The transition from fourth to fifth grade is even more important than going into high school.”

Middle schoolers are entering a key time in their lives, developmentally and academically. Their lives are changing just as their school experience is changing. They are moving from the small, self-contained world of elementary school into a building where they change classes and can even start choosing which ones they want to take.

So how do you know you’re making the right decision for your child? What should you be looking for in a middle school?

Go Visit Schools

Visiting a school in person is the only way to truly know what’s happening inside. Make plans to visit your top choices, preferably during the day when students are in class and learning. You will get a great sense of how the school runs and even the opportunity to chat with teachers and the principal.

Talk to Teachers

There’s no one who can give you the pulse of a school better than a teacher. They know the students, they know how the building is managed and they can tell you all about the leadership. Find a chance to talk to a teacher, and you’ll know if it’s the right choice for you.

While at school, look for and ask about:

1. Strong Community and Relationships

The first thing you should know about Metro’s Middle Preps is that our faculty are dedicated to helping “the whole child.” That’s not empty jargon. It means they will be nurturing your child’s academic progress and social and emotional development.

At West End Middle, teachers are assigned small groups of four to five students to monitor and coach as mentors. They check up on grades, look for patterns in student data, stop and chat with them in the hallways.

It’s an advisor-advisee relationship that you’ll actually see in many of our middle schools, in one form or another. Faculty and school staff go out of their way to get to know individual students and build positive relationships with them.

2. Engaged and Empowered Students

Those relationships often lead to students getting more interested and empowered in shaping their educational experiences. This is a big part of middle school – taking ownership of what you learn and how you learn. That could be choosing to take one class over another, or it could be as simple as being more engaged in class.

“I don’t want to see silence in a classroom,” says Keith. “I’d rather see them up, engaged and working with each other. With Common Core and project-based learning, we’re changing the old expectations for classroom management and structure.”

3. Enrichment & Tutoring

You want your child to have the best educational experience, but that will probably look very different from what other students need.

If your child needs extra help outside the classroom, ask what tutoring is available. Is it before or after school? Is there an open period during the day for your child to get extra attention.

The same goes for students who need extra challenges. What does the Encore program look like? What kind of work and activity will he get outside of regular instruction? Are there opportunities for high school credit and other advanced classes?

4. Extra-curriculars

In Metro Schools we expect every middle school student to take part in at least one extra-curricular activity. What do your middle school choices offer?

There will be sports for seventh and eighth graders, but there might also be athletic clubs for the younger kids. These aren’t fully competitive, but they often lead directly into the official athletic program.

Most schools offer clubs covering a wide variety of interests. You can also look at the band, orchestra, chorus and drama programs, as well as visual arts opportunities.

5. What Comes Next?

After middle school comes high school, so it’s fair to look four years into the future when making your choice. Does the school feed directly into high school without having to apply? How is the middle school preparing your child for the programs and curriculum there? What do you want your child to look like as a graduate?

Start thinking about that now, because it will be here sooner than you think.

There are 32 middle schools available on the optional schools application. They offer everything from International Baccalaureate to STEM to the arts and everything in between. There are academic magnets, charter schools and schools that feed directly into Hume-Fogg and MLK.

In short, there is something for every family on the application. The important part is figuring out the right choice for your child.

Apply to one of the 84 schools on the Optional Schools Application starting October 31.

Click here to apply.