THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
In Middle School, we give your child the space he needs — literally! Set amidst 40 acres of forest, streams, and wildlife, MSR’s Brier Creek Campus provides the ideal environment for students in the Third Plane of Development. Our natural surroundings provide expansive space for experiential learning and quiet reflections as your student performs scientific field studies, raises his environmental awareness, or participates in community service.
Meanwhile, our school building, nestled amongst the trees, provides a homelike academic enclave for our middle schoolers — a space apart to safely navigate the passage from childhood to young adulthood. Classrooms are arranged to support the natural flow of focused learning and lively discussion while the refectory, kitchen, labs, and other collaborative spaces make room for community governance gatherings and large projects that extend beyond the walls of the classroom.
The truth is, things can get a little messy: The robotic arm your student is tinkering with might fling ping pong balls in every direction. A mixed media collage project might require a veritable explosion of magazine clippings, paint, and putty. A dance rehearsal might leave muddy tracks all over the common room. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s essential. Because part of your student learning to take more responsibility for his learning and his role as part of a community comes in the form of cleaning up these wonderful messes.
In Middle School, your student participates in managing and maintaining his learning environment as a whole. He helps clean the common room, load the dishwasher, organize and tidy after every exuberant learning session. Together with his classmates, he’s learning how to achieve the order that makes for a harmonious living and working environment. And this skill, as any parent, teacher, colleague, business owner — okay, basically anyone — can attest, goes a long way toward success in life.
THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
Your middle schooler doesn’t just need physical space, she needs a social space that allows plenty of room for her to express herself, makes it safe to ask hard questions about who she is or how something works, and provides opportunities to practice healthy collaboration with lots of different kinds of people.
At MSR, with a student-teacher ratio of 9:1, an average class size of 18, and an optimal cohort size of 50 students, we strive to balance the variety, diversity, and opportunities that greater numbers allow with the mentorship, free space, tailored learning experiences, and personal connections that only smaller class sizes can ensure. A well-balanced cohort also means your student develops the capacity to appreciate and collaborate with different kinds of people, since it precludes the development of look-, act-, and think-alike cliques so common in larger school environments. Here, your student develops close relationships with an incredibly diverse group of peers, and she doesn’t get pigeonholed as she explores her interests and possible passions.
We also strengthen our social environment through regular, structured, student-led gatherings. Your student participates in regular Community Meetings, a collaborative forum where everyone takes an active role. If she’s the student hospitality manager, she keeps us abreast of visitors to the school. As the business manager, she reports on inventory and cash flow from our Marketplace sales and teams up with the community service manager to report how we’re contributing some of our earnings to serve the larger community. She also attends weekly advisory meetings with a small group of six to eight peers and her advisory teacher.
Her advisor is her anchor for the duration of her middle school experience, providing emotional support, academic guidance, and facilitating of good, old-fashion group fun like creating a Headless Horseman Scarecrow for Halloween. Within this smaller group, her advisory teacher creates a safe space for facilitated discussion about issues ranging from online safety and integrity, to personal identity and expression, to time management and organization.
In other words, your middle school student is surrounded by a community of adults and peers that meets her need for belonging, inspires her toward ever greater independence and personal discovery, and supports her as she navigates her relationships and growing academic responsibilities.
THE INTANGIBLE ENVIRONMENT
Perhaps the most vital aspect of our learning environment, palpable the moment you arrive on campus, might also be the most difficult to describe. It’s not something you can easily point to: a place, a program, a policy. Rather, it’s a mindset — a community-wide belief in the capacity of our students to set and achieve their own goals; seek out big, meaningful challenges; both fail and succeed spectacularly and safely; and thus learn lessons so deeply that they inform their lives forever.
Over time in this environment, through both practice and osmosis, your student develops the MSR mindset, too. He learns to approach every challenge first with the assumption that he can do it (whatever “it” is) and with an ever growing sense of his strengths and how he learns best.
He may not know how yet, but he knows from experience that he’s capable of learning how to do anything, that with hard work and persistence no problem is too big to take on, and that grappling with complex, interesting problems is part of what brings joy and meaning to work and life.