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A Mindful Moment from the Middle

Welcome to A Mindful Moment from the Middle, a blog featuring interesting educational commentary, by Jennifer Rose, Head of Middle School.  

Let’s Get Curious - Black History Month, Poetry, and AI
Jennifer Rose

First, a poem in honor of Black History Month:

“Oh, Black scientists, true heroes of our time,
Your courage and your genius are sublime.
You've changed the world with your discoveries,
Your work is more than just a series of successes.

From medicine to math, you've made a mark,
Your studies of the stars have lit the dark.
From physics to biology, your work is grand,
Your findings have made a lasting stand.

Your work has helped us understand the world,
You've made the future brighter, unfurled.
Your contributions are a source of pride,
Your brilliance is a light that will not hide.

Your knowledge and your skill have made us strong,
Your courage has made us carry on.
Your work is a beacon of hope and light,
Your legacy will last forever, bright.”

~ by Chat GPT.

Yes, the above poem was written by Chat GPT.  I have been reading the news, like many of you, on the AI open source technology that is confounding educators and causing a stir in every industry.  You may have heard Dr. Crafton, Dr. Bowman, Mr. Advento or I share that we are excited to work with students and families as they explore learning for careers that don’t yet exist.  This is one of the reasons why.  How we evaluate information, analyze, synthesize and utilize it will be more important than ever.  

For this poem, I typed “write a poem about Black scientists in iambic pentameter.” In  30 seconds, what you read above is what the AI delivered.  In my opinion, it’s just okay; however, it took 30 seconds to create, so if I were judging on speed, it’s amazing.  I can talk about speed of work at another time; for this post, I want to talk about curiosity.  Students will be turning to this application to write more than a poem, so what can we do as parents and educators?  Let’s get curious. 

For example, in the poem above, I could ask:

  • Which Black scientists have “changed the world with your discoveries,”  and which discovery do you think is the most important and why?
  • Whose work has “helped us understand the world” and why?
  • Could you include specific names of scientists in your version of this poem for each “Your?”

I also might want to ask students to curate a set of documents using an AI application, collect them in class, redistribute them, read and see what erroneous information they include, and research and find the sources that verify or contradict what they read in the material collected.  AI is not perfect, and it can spit out false information.  We want our students to be critical thinkers and to use multiple sources to verify their research.  

So, what can you do at home? Play with the AI resources, get curious, have conversations.  Share with your child that using the AI to write work that is supposed to be their own creative work isn’t acceptable at school; in fact, a discussion of plagiarism might be in order as well.  In school, we are discussing how to use this technology with our students, and that will be a process, not an overnight 30-second fix.  So, I’m curious, what do you see as potential opportunities for our students to use this technology?  I’ll close with another poem, a short haiku, this one authored by me:

There’s no need to fear
Adaptive Technology
Let’s get curious.

Joy and Connection
Jennifer Rose

Music Mondays, House competitions, Middle School meetings, and recess are moments in our day, our week, that bring us JOY.  Characteristically, Middle School is seen as a tumultuous time for students.  They are learning about who they are and how they fit in, discovering what it means to have social capital, and navigating new friendships and new relationships with their parents. That being said, when they walk through the Middle School door and we say hello each morning, I am more often than not greeted with smiles, “have a great day,” a wave of a hand, and even some bouncy steps as our students arrive.  

Intentionally designing time for joy in our school day, brings balance to our students' lives.  Often, recess is a period that is eliminated once students reach Middle School.  To support the additional curricular requirements in Middle School, schools may opt-out of that free time for play.  A statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics reads, in part,  “Recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is necessary for the health and development of children…”   An article by the Penn Foundation states, “The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends unstructured play as a developmentally appropriate means of reducing stress. Recess provides children with the opportunity to exert energy in a healthy way. And because recess is a break from the structure and expectations of school, children have the chance to take control of their world, even if only for a short time.”  We are so fortunate at Wardlaw+Hartridge to have the ability to schedule play into our day. 

On the turf fields, the tennis courts, in Laidlaw Gym during inclement weather, or in classrooms with supervising teachers, students have the opportunity to play, chat, mingle, and be kids.  They get a break from their screens and academically structured requirements, so they can take the time to metaphorically ‘let their hair down.’  According to Harvard Health Publishing, regular physical activity can also help reduce children’s anxiety, depression, and stress levels.  As we, “prepare our students to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection,” we intentionally give them the space, time, and tools to create connections here on campus.

Middle School Embracing Joyful Connection, Tradition
Jennifer Rose

As I was preparing for this year, my second as Head of Middle School at Wardlaw+Hartridge, I wanted to have an overarching theme for our division in approaching our daily work.  After much reflection, I settled on the themes of Joy, Community, and Connection.  With that in mind, I spent the summer doing research, collaborating with colleagues, and reading and listening to books on happiness, climate activism, adolescent development, and the power of regret.  With a clear focus and renewed energy, I spent the summer revamping the advisory curriculum at each grade level, planning community service events, and setting up the launch of a House system in the Middle School. To support that new initiative, Mr. Nicholls, our Health and PE teacher, suggested the book “Strength from Our Roots” to help me with some school history. 

What is a House system?  Traditionally, Houses are groups of students who are “sorted” into a smaller community within a school.  The Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School House system incorporates our school’s historical character in three Houses: Leal, Scribner, and Hayward.  From the book “Strength from Our Roots,” I learned that before it was The Hartridge School, in the early 1880s, Miss Julia Scribner, along with a friend, Miss Newton, started the Misses Scribner and Newton’s School for young ladies. In 1903, it became The Hartridge School after name changes and changes in Heads of School.  Similarly, before Wardlaw Country Day School existed there was Mr. Leal’s School, founded in 1882. In 1911, Mr. Charles Wardlaw joined the school and subsequently purchased the interest in the school, renaming it the Wardlaw Country Day School. Finally, the third root of our historical tree is Misses Hayward’s English and French School, founded in 1869, which soon became The Vail-Deane School in 1886.  In 1976, The Hartridge School and the Wardlaw Country Day schools merged, and in 1991, The Vail-Deane School became part of Wardlaw-Hartridge. 

Our House system is new, it is a cultural shift, it is forward-looking, and simultaneously, we are carrying on the history of our school.  We are building new traditions and engaging with our community by honoring our past, designing our present, and creating a new future.    Houses include students in grades six, seven, and eight who work together as they live our mission of a familial sense of community through friendly competition, collaboration, and displays of respect, responsibility, and community spirit.

Our Middle School students are taking ownership and creating a legacy, so when they are alumni of Wardlaw+Hartridge, they can also say they are members of Leal or Scribner or Hayward House, giving a quiet nod to our roots, our foundation, and our history.  This year we are not only embracing but also creating joy, community, and connection, and we are all excited to build traditions and create history for the next chapter, the next bloom of the Wardlaw+Hartridge story.  We are “Three Houses, One Family.”

And Away We Go
Jennifer Rose

As I write this, it is National Poetry Month, members of our community are honoring the month of Ramadan, others are preparing for Easter or Passover, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all around us.  We are preparing for a myriad of events in the Middle School in arts, sports, and academics. Spring is indeed in the air.  

Typically, all over the country, at this time of year, class trips head out.  I remember my middle school class trips with so much fondness. For the past two years, those signature pieces of our program have been on a hiatus; however, with cautious optimism, we planned. In the fall, we were able to take all of our middle schoolers out on one day trips to local outdoor education centers: Duke Farms with the sixth grade, Jockey Hollow with the seventh grade and Grounds for Sculpture with the eighth grade. I hoped that we would be able to return to our overnight trips, and with that hope, we planned.

Travel allows us to see the world from a new lens, a new perspective.  It offers us a window into a different community and gives us the opportunity to learn and grow.  It reminds me of the quote by author Mary Anne Radmacher: “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”  Travel is an open door to so many new experiences.  Many of our students have not spent the night away from home, and most have not had the chance to engage in a school sponsored overnight trip.  When I interviewed for this position, the school trips were a part of the school experience that the student panel spoke about the most.  Although we are not going to the other side of the world, we are leaving our own backyards.

I am so excited, and still cautiously optimistic that next week, all of our Middle School students will head out to explore, question, engage their curiosity, and learn.  Our sixth graders will explore environmental education, learn more about cooperation, and have the chance to challenge themselves.  Frost Valley designs programs that, “develop confident, socially responsible, actively engaged life-long learners.”  Our seventh grade will be in Philadelphia, PA.  This change from prior trips to Williamsburg, gives our seventh graders more time to explore history while adding in experiences in art, science, and civics.  Finally, the eighth grade will return to Washington, D.C. and spend their time in the seat of our government with a tour that allows them to dive deeply into learning more about who we are as a nation.  

These trips offer students time to engage in a collective experience that they can reflect upon, a time to recall fondly when they think about their middle school years.  I look forward to hearing their stories, sharing in their joy, and curating experiences that they will remember. Maybe these trips will spark an interest in learning more about the places they’ve been or a curiosity to travel to places unknown. 

As it is National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to close with a poem.

Travel by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

The railroad track is miles away, 
    And the day is loud with voices speaking, 
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day 
    But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn't a train goes by, 
    Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, 
But I see its cinders red on the sky, 
    And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make, 
    And better friends I'll not be knowing; 
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take, 
    No matter where it's going.

Inspiring Our Pioneering Thinkers
Jennifer Rose

When I accepted the position as Head of the Middle School at Wardlaw+Hartridge, I recalled the time when I was joining the International School at SHAPE in Belgium as a middle school student, remembering that there are traditions to be honored and opportunities for growth.  As a school that values global interconnectedness, in fact it is part of our mission, Wardlaw+Hartridge is positioned in a unique way to other independent schools in our area.  Our new partnership with Global Online Academy (GOA) is an opportunity for our students to truly collaborate and connect with students from all over the world, learn from a diverse group of educators, and see through a variety of cultural lenses.

Students at Wardlaw+Hartridge have swung the doors wide open to a myriad of course offerings, too many to name here, yet a few come to mind from discussions with some of our high schoolers: Climate Change and Global Inequality, Cyber Security, Architecture, Psychology, and Bioethics. Each of these courses speaks to our mission of rigorous inquiry and offers the learner a variety of cultural perspectives.  How is design a function of geography when studying architecture?  How does GDP play a role in a country’s push for sustainable energy practices?  Where does personal privacy end in a digital world and public safety begin?  These are questions that have cultural lenses through which our students can learn from a cohort of global citizens. 

Traditionally, a four-year high school preparatory program includes general education courses, honors courses, and AP courses.  Students follow a path of study that is largely predetermined. 

Our ability to offer courses through GOA, courses that allow students to explore passions, experience different cultural perspectives, and engage in meaningful cross-disciplinary dialogue, opens the doors for our students to pursue passions that may become new pathways during their years in College and University settings.  Rick Shaw, Dean of Stanford Undergraduate Admissions, writes,  “When a student chooses to take a course like what GOA offers they’re taking advantage of an incredible resource their school has made available to them. They’ve demonstrated that when they get to college they will avail themselves of the great resources – the courses, professors, programs, activities, and facilities available to them, and that they will pursue their passions in myriad ways.”

We, as a community, pride ourselves on the fact that our students achieve at a high level and that they are competitive in the collegiate field, and we want to provide them avenues for curiosity, diversity of thought and perspective, and the opportunities that a truly global education can bring. In our Middle School, students will have the opportunity to take Flex Courses designed by GOA that tie into our curricular studies.  As our 8th grade students begin research for their Capstone, they will be enrolled in the course, “Designing Excellent Questions,”  truly engaging with their passion project to research and study a personally relevant essential question.  

Curiosity, academic challenge, rigorous inquiry, support for individual excellence, diversity, and a familial sense of community.  With this new partnership, we at Wardlaw+Hartridge can continue to lead the way for all of our Pioneering Thinkers to pursue their passions.