Building Healthy Habits in the Middle School
by Alex Domine
On a typical weekday in the Middle School at Charles Wright, you will find the hallways clamoring with smiling students, each one wearing a different emotion on their face. Most will be laughing with their friends, others will be rushing enthusiastically into the next class, and others will be studiously reviewing an exciting activity they just experienced in class. Underneath all the activity and differing expressions, there is a unifying and consistent theme: the need for guidance and healthy habits.
Middle School is a period of time when students begin building healthy habits and the skills to be a lifelong learner. Strategies for time management, prioritization, and “learning to learn better” are themes that are integrated into the middle school experience at Charles Wright.
The presence of Lisa West, a full-time learning specialist, is one way that the school sets each middle school student up for success as they build healthy habits.
“We focus on becoming a metacognitive student in middle school.” says Ms. West. “Ways of accomplishing your homework is one thing, but focusing on learning as you learn is a healthy habit that prepares a student for success.”
Students in the Middle School can meet with Ms. West for help in developing their learning skills. For the same reason, each middle school student has an advisor to monitor their academic progress, and study hall is built into the week so that students get practice in developing study skills.
For students, much of these habits and skills consist of organization and time management. Building healthy habits for time management and organization are framed in the context of what you can and cannot control.
“For example, a student doesn’t necessarily have control over when classes are scheduled, but they do have some control over the rest of their time,” says Ms. West.
This level of control and organization is not only about time management, but it is also management of your surroundings, your attitude, and your life experience in general.
Bringing order to your home, bedroom, study area, and locker will enhance a student’s ability to stay on schedule, focus, and succeed. This minimizes any frustrating situations, like lost assignments, so students can thrive and flourish during their middle school years.
In addition, developing organization skills will improve a students ability to succeed in all pursuits. The middle school’s goal is for students to leave ready for a challenging and enriching upper school program. Part of how the Middle School achieves this goal for independence beyond middle school is assigning students an advisor to monitor their academic progress.
The role of the advisor is to understand each of their advisees and their learning styles so that advisors know what each student needs to succeed. A middle school advisor guides their advisee through the process of learning, particularly when it means giving the best resources and individual one-on-one sessions with teachers during study hall time. The study hall time is built into the week at Middle School for advisors to ensure their advisees are succeeding with building healthy habits and learning. An advisor might look to understand where a student is having trouble, and give them access to a teacher during the day to get individual help with homework.
“We reach out to students to understand what their experience has been, and what will make it better, and providing students an opportunity to get work done in school (during study hall) sets them up to succeed and develop better learning habits.” said Middle School English Teacher Rob Scotlan.
Whether a student is working on math, history, or any other given subject, the advisor will give them one-on-one access to their teacher and encourage them to ask questions. This helps establish the habit of being able to go directly to a teacher to get individual guidance of their work. People like Mr. Scotlan and Ms. West often have conversations with students and parents to help families support these study habits at home as well.
“Being generally available and being present, but somewhat occupied, is one nuanced way of being supportive.” says Ms. West. “Being familiar with a student’s planner and Veracross, a service that CWA provides for families to receive information, is also a tangible way for families to enhance the experience of building healthy habits.”
More homework tips for families include showing interest in what the child is learning, being a cheerleader, setting aside distraction free time for the whole family (not just the student), and informal conversations to stay informed.
“They are balancing physical growth and hormonal development, social awareness and the need for acceptance, the quest for independence, and all while just beginning to understand abstract concepts,” says Middle School Director Bill Schuver.
Building healthy habits in learning is one way to temper the challenges of the middle school years, and set students up to successfully navigate the future.
“Throughout the entire middle school experience, we guide students to think through their day-to-day interactions and develop healthy habits.” said Middle School Assistant Director Rachel Rippl. “We provide opportunities for students to grow, succeed, and be the best they can be.”