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Middle School Blog

Middle School Community Letter - Summer 2017

Hello from Derryfield!
I hope you are enjoying a healthy and happy summer so far. I have often described my job here as being split into two modes: a school-year mode and a summer mode. My school-year mode experience is characterized by my attempts to stay immersed in the action and energy of our dynamic middle school community. My very centralized and open office - affectionately known as the fishbowl - is the perfect vantage point for me to be the kind of educational leader that I hope to be when school is in session. In contrast, summer mode is a very different experience. To allow the same advantages I have as a school leader during the year, I welcome our Breakthrough leaders to use my office, and I move up to a room in the Upper School where I always begin the summer with reflection about the past year before starting to get into the details of next year. I have come to rely on this time, although I know that when August gets underway I will start to grow impatient about getting the students and faculty back to begin another year’s journey of discovery and growth. However, I am fortunate that when I want to get a taste of the magic that happens in high quality learning communities, I only need to walk around campus.
The Derryfield Repertory Theatre (DRT) program, under the third-year leadership of DS alum Chris Kiley ‘05, is beginning its final session full of campers this week. As has become tradition, the counselors and some selected students put on their own show which is open to the public. This year they are putting on one of my favorites, Little Shop of Horrors. The campy story of budding (sorry!) botanist Seymour and his love for the sweet, damsel-in-distress Audrey who suffers in a relationship with a sadistic dentist has deservedly become a classic. For me, Alan Menken’s score ranks among my favorite in this genre. If you missed last Friday’s show, there’s still time for a great night out in the DS theater! Tickets for the final performance at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 4, are available at the door (cash only). Whether a date night or night out with the family, it is also an opportunity to see our musical director, Alex Hunton, in action!  For more info, visit their website at http://www.derryfieldrepertorytheatre.com/.
The Breakthrough Manchester program, with ninety-four rising seventh, eighth and ninth graders from local Manchester public schools, just hit their academic midterm. The theme this year for Breakthrough is “Mapping Our Future” which reflects their mission to alter the pathways of the Breakthrough students’ lives as so many of them go on to be the first college graduates of their families. The impact that these educators have had on thousands of local families in the past quarter-century is truly inspirational. As always, I love the opportunity to share ideas with the Breakthrough faculty and to see how this school within a school approaches so many of the same goals as we do during the year such as building community, balancing academic, social, and athletic pursuits, and promoting ownership and pride within a community. It is also extremely gratifying to see Derryfield alum like Griffin Antle ‘13 and Adriana “Dri” Smith ‘14 teaching in the program. Director Becky Berk wanted me to thank the Derryfield families for their generous support of the program that comes every year in gifts from the auction and parents hosting Breakthrough teachers.
These two programs fit perfectly into our strategic plan goal of becoming a “convener” in both the local community and in the broader academic community, as do a number of other summer programs. Girls’
Varsity Tennis Coach, Gus Moral, once again offered a free tennis camp to local youth - a program that Gus has been running on campus since 2002. Furthermore, there are lots of camps to appeal to a wide variety of interests this summer ranging from athletics to the arts to academics (see the full list at http://www.derryfield.org/Page/Summer). There is still availability in some of the offerings if you are interested including one geared for middle schoolers called “Sumo Robots, Python & Stop Motion Animation.” Sounds cool, huh?!
Continuing my pursuit of an M.Ed. in Teaching and Learning, I am taking another online graduate course through Derryfield’s connection with the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University this summer. The course, “Open Learning,” is designed to extend participants’ competence in theory, research and practice related to the open learning revolution that is revolutionizing education from kindergarten to higher education and every level in between. The course description reads in part, “Face-to-face classrooms are inherently private because there are physical limits on how many people can attend. But online and mobile environments have an almost infinite capacity for openness. Millions of people can access the same materials at the same time. Early innovators on the web proclaimed, ‘Information wants to be free!’ This perspective is the heart and soul of open learning, whose mission often includes global and affordable access to education.” With its roots in the ‘open source’ software movement launched from MIT in the 1980’s (here’s a quick timeline I made on the topic), the opening of educational materials ranging from lesson plans to entire courses has changed the entire educational landscape. The shift has not been solely the result of a new philosophy combined with new technologies. Necessity, that “famous mother of invention,” has played a significant role. Consider the increasing demand for higher education. Currently, about 110 million people are served by the world’s higher education institutions. Experts have predicted that within the next twenty-five years the number of those looking for higher education experiences will grow by 140 million. Clearly, the traditional brick-and-mortar models will not be able to meet this demand.
What does this shift mean for us in the Middle School? I see two major takeaways. First, we need to continue to embrace online content in our teaching and learning. Students must continue to navigate blended classroom experiences that combine technology and traditional face-to-face instruction and often allow students more control over the time, pace, and place of their learning (here’s a link to a current edutopia article on the topic). Second, with increasing content and educational opportunities at their fingertips, we need to continue to teach students how to sort through large amounts of content on the web and also present what they learn in a meaningful and organized way. Many educational leaders refer to this process, often called curating, as the emerging fifth “C” in the four C’s of 21st education which include critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. The course has inspired me to author a MOOC-like (Massive Open Online Course) geared to parenting your Derryfield student in the digital age. I am looking forward to your input and participation as this project unfolds!
The middle school faculty and I wrapped up last year talking a lot about community. Community is not only one of Derryfield’s core values (Community: We seek a diverse community defined and sustained by close relationships, social interdependence, and service), it is also one of the eight essential traits upon which we focus in the Middle School. Like a number of traits (i.e., an organized, self-directed learner and a creative experimenter and determined problem solver)  that we focused on in years past, building engaged, positive community members will get special attention this year as we find ways to be more intentional and resourceful in our school-wide approach. We will be instituting the theme of community into retreats, advisories, athletics, arts, assemblies, activities, and, of course, our courses themselves. We know from past work that a broad approach is the most impactful. We are also laying plans to help students and their families bring the same sense of positive community to their digital worlds. You may have noticed how important the theme of community was in the all-middle summer read Bystander by James Preller. All middle school faculty read this book, and I highly encourage all middle school parents to do the same as it serves as a highly effective discussion starter on the role students play in creating safe, nurturing school environments. Much
more to come!
I always think it is important this time of the year to thank all our Derryfield Connecting Families who continue to work on assisting new families to The Derryfield School with their transition. Thanks in advance, as well, to our parents who will volunteer to be team parents for our hard-working middle school athletic teams and to those who serve as class parents and on the Parent Faculty Association (PFA). Their involvement certainly reflects our family core value. If you have not thought of volunteering in the Middle School, or have not thought of yourself as the “volunteering type,” I encourage you to reconsider, as the time and energy you commit to the Middle School makes a difference in the lives of students and faculty.
Finally, a reminder that all the students will receive hard copies of their class schedules at their retreats and will be walked through the daily schedule and location of all their classes. They will also get their locker assignments, so feel free to bring to the retreats any school supplies you have purchased. (The students can load up their lockers at the end of the day.) Please consult the Middle School supply list carefully. Log in to the DS website and go to the Parent tab then click the Resources button at the top of the page. Click on the Back-to-School Information button to locate the 2017 MS Supply List. Information regarding classes and ordering books will be available very soon on the Derryfield website.
Mark your calendars for the following important events:
Tuesday, August 29: 8:30-9:00 a.m. Welcome Breakfast followed by 9:00 a.m-2:00 p.m. New Parent Retreat for parents of new sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. RSVP to Andrea Stevenson at 603.669.4524 option 2, or astevenson@derryfield.org by Friday, August 18.
Friday, September 8: 5:00-6:30 p.m. Back to School Picnic for all students and parents - please bring a dish to share - the PFA (Parent/Faculty Association) will assign based on grade.
Thursday, September 14: 6:40-9:00 p.m. Parents’ Night for all parents grades 6-12.
Tuesday, November 21: Required Advisor / Parent Conferences 8:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. (No school for students.)
If you have internet access at home or at your office and you have not already given us your email address, please contact Annie Branch to receive our weekly electronic newsletter. Also, be sure to log in to our website as soon as possible so you can stay in touch with everything going on and find everything you might need!
Head of Middle School
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The Derryfield School

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