At Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, Florida, Middle School is comprised of students in grades six, seven, and eight. Transitioning to Middle School from fifth grade is a significant step for students.
The Middle School experience is focused on discovering and nurturing the individual talents of each student. Academic excellence is the core of the Pine Crest Middle School experience. Middle School faculty encourage students to stretch themselves academically, while learning to use critical thinking skills to problem solve, and working effectively in partnership and collaborative groups with a focus on becoming knowledgeable, empathic global citizens.
For the first time in their academic careers, students are introduced to a new framework of classes; through the fifth grade, they are primarily with one teacher who oversees their academic and social integration. In Middle School, that shifts to interacting with multiple subject area teachers on a daily basis, engagement in Fine Arts, participation in athletic programs, and meeting with a faculty advisor to guide students throughout their Middle School years.
While all Middle School students at Pine Crest have an advisor, some of the decision-making responsibility shifts from teachers to students. This may begin for some students with deciding where to sit at lunch. As minor as this may seem, this is the type of choice that will develop students’ ability to make decisions later on.
Balancing Homework with Extracurricular Activities
At Pine Crest Middle School, administrators and faculty work hard to find a balance between students’ academics and opportunities for them to experience and try new things. This is what Middle School is all about! At times, there are increases in the homework load to support learning in the classroom, but there is ample time to prepare. Every student’s schedule has time built in for study and collaboration.
“Middle School offers an opportunity for students to begin learning how to manage their time,” said Kristi Combs, Middle School Head on Pine Crest’s Boca Raton campus. “That is one of the foundational skills we teach. We want students to use their time wisely in study hall, after school, and during extra help sessions when teachers are available to answer questions and support student learning. At the same time, we ask our teachers to be intentional with assigned homework, and we often have ‘plan and prepare nights’ that explicitly practice the study behaviors we teach, as opposed to task-based assignments so students learn how to study.”
Middle School teachers are mindful of the calendar. On evenings when there are School events, teachers do not assign homework or tests the next day. At Pine Crest, it is important for students to enjoy their extracurricular activities without worrying about tests the next day.
Learning is Fun in Middle School
Sixth grade is the first time students learn from subject area experts in each class.
“Teachers in Middle School love their content; they are the experts, and that brings enthusiasm into the classroom,” said Mrs. Combs. “We have adjusted our Middle School schedule to a modified program that includes teaching intensives, which is a longer period with the teacher where students have hands-on science labs, Harkness discussions, debates about the articles of the constitution, written narratives, and peer reviews. Students connect with teachers and go deeper into their subjects. They are creatively and positively engaged in the learning!”
Pine Crest Middle School teachers promote active learning. For example, students may have “snowball fights.” The snowball technique to learning provides a structure for students to incrementally build on their knowledge and roll out ideas just like when building a snowball. This interactive learning structure provides opportunities for valuable skills such as responding to text, justifying information, and collaborative discussions.
To complement the way students at this age are developing and to promote collaboration, teachers break up the learning into small increments. When students interact with each other, they utilize cognitive skills to organize and prioritize communication.
Another priority for Middle School is creating spaces for students to engage in mindfulness, private study, or relax together to play games. Students have their own student council that promotes events on campus and plans special days for students and faculty.
“Peer-to-peer skills go into identity formation,” said Mrs. Combs. “That peer-to-peer interaction is foundational in students’ development. We have time for them to play and be kids.”
Why Pine Crest Middle School
The Pine Crest curriculum — and the delivery of it — are differentiators.
“Our curriculum is well-crafted and adaptive to what we see happening in the world,” said Mrs. Combs. “Evidence of this is in the development of new programs. Last year, we implemented a course titled Design Thinking through Innovation, a new health curriculum, and a 2D and 3D design course. These are areas we identified as being necessary skills for students to take with them beyond their careers as Pine Crest Middle and Upper School students. We are able to take our curriculum and adapt to what students need.”
At Pine Crest School, students benefit from an innovative program that incorporates progressive and transformational elements.
“We believe in hands-on exploration, inquiry learning, and discussion-based construction of ideas,” said Mrs. Combs. “Students help to create the learning by asking relevant questions, and we encourage them to do so. The more progressive classes take place in the Zimmerman Family and Mintz Family iLabs and during computer science. This blend of traditional and progressive lessons are what students need to go into the world, and exposes them to what they will see in the world — traditional elements and progressive ones.”
Beyond scores and grades, intangible skills are what students need to be successful, including the ability to communicate, be a problem solver, and be thoughtful. It is more than just taking in information and pushing it back out.
“The ability to show compassion and empathy, to prioritize someone else's needs over their own, and to self-advocate is essential,” said Mrs. Combs. “We prioritize the development of the person in conjunction with academics, and that is evident in the balance we incorporate into student schedules.”
Schedule a campus tour with an Admission Counselor to experience the Pine Crest difference.