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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.  

Embracing Compassion
Jennifer Rose

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” - Herman Melville

Two weeks from this posting in the WHEN and on our school’s website,  Middle School students will be on summer vacation, the eighth graders will have completed their Stepping Up Ceremony, and Middle School faculty will be winding down their academic year.  As I finish up this academic year, I am filled with bittersweet emotions.  Many of you know that I have accepted a position as the Director for Professional Development for the Association for Middle Level Education.  For me, it’s been a whirlwind of two incredible years here at Wardlaw+Hartridge, and I’m leaving with confidence in the strength of the Middle School community and pride in what we have all continued to build together.  As this year began, I focused my first blog on Joy, Community and Connection.  As I write my final blog post, I’d like to add another word to that list – Compassion.  

In Robin Steinberg’s book The Courage of Compassion she shares, “How would you like to be judged for the rest of your life by the worst thing you've ever done? We all think we are compassionate just like we all think we are honest. But true compassion is not innate. Compassion for others, especially those that we don't know or understand, must be learned.”  

One of the most challenging aspects of Middle School is the notion that mistakes will be made, sometimes big mistakes, and because we are in the business of educating, we support students to take accountability for their mistakes, make amends, learn from their mistakes, and grow.  By no means does this mean we want or allow kids to be hurtful to each other in word or deed. We strongly support the W+H DEIB Mission Statement, and, “ We welcome and honor every individual’s uniqueness, ideas, differences, talents, and experiences that make us who we are and will stand up to discrimination, harassment, or intimidation.”  And, developmentally, students are at an age where they do make mistakes.    

We are so fortunate as a community to have a diverse population of families. What this means is we need a higher dose of compassion for each other, for the learning curve of our emerging adolescents, and for addressing mistakes and accompanying accountability that is age and stage appropriate.  Although during the course of a year, our students learn a great deal about navigating a variety of cultural competencies, each year, new students and families join our community who have not had that experience, and we start again at the beginning.  So, I ask, as we move forward through a summer of rest and rejuvenation that we, as a community, consider how we will begin again in 2023-2024 with renewed Joy, Community, Connection, and Compassion. 


Daring Greatly, the Class of 2027 Takes a Stand
Jennifer Rose

On Friday, April 14, the Class of 2027 shared their Capstone presentations with their peers, school faculty and staff, and parents. The Eighth Grade Capstone is a signature project, and students started this process in early November, beginning with the guiding Essential Question, “When should an Individual take a stand?” 

At noon, parents joined us for a short presentation led by several eighth graders who shared their process, which included beginning with the Global Online Academy Flex Course: Designing Excellent Questions. From choosing a question through thesis, outline, draft, review and presentation, including an Art booklet that encapsulated the theme of the Capstone, students challenged themselves to achieve at the highest level.

I’d to share some of my remarks from that day here:

We are so excited to have you here this afternoon to share the work of our eighth graders. Before I turn this over to Ms. Ramati, and a group of our eighth graders, I wanted to say a few words about Capstone in general and our incredible Class of 2027 students.

The Eighth Grade Capstone is an action research project that extends over several months. Students respond to an essential question, which introduces them to the complexity of problems for which there are no easy answers. Students are encouraged to explore an issue of global significance and personal relevance by cultivating a range of research skills. This multi-disciplinary project builds reading, writing, research, artistic, critical thinking, and presentation skills while also fostering curiosity, collaboration, teamwork, and resilience. Our students will be well prepared for the rigors of Upper School.  

With guidance, clarity, patience, and firmness, Ms. Ramati led this group of 41 students from the formulation of a question through today’s presentation.  

This may be the first time our young people truly have been challenged in ways they were not expecting. Time management skills, research skills, analysis, evaluation, synthesis, resilience…these skills were tested, challenged, practiced and mastered.  

This project reminded me of the President Theodore Roosevelt quote from “The Man in the Arena,” which I edited here to be more inclusive of all our students; I call this version The Person in the Arena.  

“It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong stumble, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Eighth grade, stand tall today when you share your work with your family and the families of your peers. You have come through the arena triumphant, and you have dared greatly.”

Our eighth graders have a few more exciting weeks ahead of them, including a trip to Washington, DC, their final Middle School Spring Concert, and performances at the annual Middle School Shakespeare Festival, before they participate in their Stepping Up Ceremony.  I am confident that our students are ready for the rigors of our Upper School program. Their eloquence and passion clearly were evident last Friday. They exhibited poise, confidence, compassion and purpose, and they are indeed ready to continue their work to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection. Kudos to the Class of 2027.  May you continue to pursue the important questions on when to take a stand.

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.”