The RFC middle school program is different from the elementary program by design. While elementary students are focused on tuning their imagination to learning how the universe works, adolescents are focused on how they fit into the universe. Adolescents ask, “What does this have to do with me?” and “Where do I fit in?” Their bodies are changing. They possess sometimes conflicting needs to be uniquely and creatively themselves and to “fit in” as a valued part of society. To this end, the RFC middle school offers the adolescents opportunities to engage in meaningful and productive work within the classroom, for the school, and for the community, wherein the success of the endeavor relies on the individual contributions of each student. RFC middle school is a collaborative, supportive learning environment that promotes the personal growth of each young adult to be.
The RFC middle school program development is also viewed through the lens of needing to prepare our students to be successful in a variety of high-school settings (and this is a question we frequently receive during the admissions process!). We understand that RFC students will be moving on to a variety of different high-school environments: public schools, private schools, alternative schools, and homeschools. We owe it to them, and to their parents, to ensure that they are prepared to thrive in whichever environment they choose. For this reason, we looked at what other middle school programs offer around the country, and we sought to choose academic themes and curricula that are common to the middle-school experience – while also preserving RFC values of in-depth and hands-on learning both in and outside of the classroom and formative assessment rather than tests and grades. As in a traditional middle or high school setting, the RFC middle school schedule is blocked out by subject area, rather than offering more open work time as in the elementary classrooms. A significant amount of time is blocked specifically for community work and learning outside of the classroom, allowing for choice, student initiative and planning, creative expression, and movement.
As developmentally appropriate beyond elementary schooling, middle school students are expected to complete regular at-home assignments, both to increase student planning and time-management skills and to offer students more time to work on deeper projects and reading assignments. Homework will be balanced across subject areas to assure a total maximum of approximately 1 - 1 ½ hours per day, depending on individual student reading speed. Nightly reading and note taking will be an expectation. Preparation at home allows for more time during the school day for cooperative project work, seminar discussions, and learning experiences outside of the classroom. Under each academic section below, we have outlined what the homework requirement might look like for that subject.
Program: Dimensions Math
Levels: various levels, by ability, encompassing fundamental operations, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, and Geometry
Dimensions Math is the follow-on program to the elementary-level Singapore math we use at RFC. It was developed by the same organization, and uses the same structure, but is written in a more mature format for older students. Both of these programs have a wonderful scaffolding method of adding new skills, slowly and intuitively, while also circling back to review old skills.
A math evaluation will be given to all middle-school students the first week of school. This evaluation is designed to ensure that we start each student at the appropriate level.
Consistent with our desire to provide a collaborative learning environment for adolescents, all students will also engage in math seminars where all are asked to attempt and discuss solutions for a variety of critical thinking problems chosen specifically to instigate multiple modes of thinking. These seminars create a classroom culture of mathematics learning, a safe space to share ideas and learn from each other, and a means to learn to respectfully question others’ ideas and defend one’s own position.
Homework: May include completion of unfinished classwork and twice per week individualized math practice work.
Cultural Studies (Science, History) and Current Events
At RFC, science and history are taught holistically in the manner of the Big History Project and Dr. Montessori’s Cosmic Education. In the middle school, this approach grounds the students in why science and history matter to them. It emphasizes that our individual roles in life are part of the bigger story of the whole universe. Students will engage in research, labwork, debate, and excursions to deepen their understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of historic and scientific events, both natural and human-instigated.
The story encompassing science and history will be spread over a three-year cycle, exposing all RFC middle school students who complete our program to the fields of Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry (year one), Earth and Environmental Sciences (year two), and Biology and Ecosystems (year three). These studies will coincide with a historical focus on Agriculture and Civilizations (year one), Exploration and Expansion (year two), and Modern Times (year three). Continuous reference to the overarching story of the universe assures that it will not matter which part of the story incoming students enter. The disciplines introduced are common to traditional middle schools and should set our students up for success in whatever high school environment they end up choosing.
Current events discussions are scheduled two times per week in the middle school. Students will read daily newspapers and work together to analyze issues and events of the day, particularly in the context of their science and history studies. The perspective of the writers will be considered and bias discussed. Conversations will be held in respectful dialogue where students are able to disagree with ideas and support their opinions with fact, but not to denigrate people.
It is expected that these discussions will lead to student-initiated research, social justice action, and opportunities for connections across the curriculum, all of which will be encouraged and fostered!
Homework: May include at-home reading assignments, note taking, and individual projects.
Reading comprehension of fiction and nonfiction texts of increasing complexity is critical for success in the adult world. Writing well is equally critical for clearly communicating ideas to others. In the RFC Middle School, our literature and reading will be guided both by our cultural studies and by current events (newspapers). Students will explore nonfiction reading material regularly for research purposes. Students will also be asked to interact with a variety of fiction texts, classic and contemporary, through note taking and posing interpretive questions for group discussion. Literature seminars will be held to delve into content more deeply. Students will write literary analyses and theme explorations. They will engage in informational, narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and creative writing weekly, both in designated writing times and in all curricular blocks.
Homework: Students will be expected to read and to take notes nightly, whether it is literature reading, history reading, science reading, or personal reading. Class time will be spent in discussion and in other collaborative and hands-on responses to the assigned reading.
Public Speaking Learning to speak in public has lifelong benefits, and there will be many opportunities for our students to practice this skill in the middle school program. Public speaking will be practiced in all parts of the curriculum as students express their views in class discussions, read aloud from literature, current events, or personal writing, present their work to RFC families, or practice going to Capitol Hill to make their viewpoints heard to legislators!
Nature, Physical and Creative Expression
NatureBridge overnight camp RFC adolescents will kick off their nature studies with a 2-night (3 days) NatureBridge camp in October in the nearby Prince William Forest. Beyond teaching autonomy and facilitating group bonding, the students will be led by NatureBridge experts to conduct environmental science activities and teamwork exercises.
More info here: https://naturebridge.org/prince-william-forest/school-group/your- naturebridge-program
Yoga Continuing the elementary RFC tradition, middle school students will engage in yoga and mindfulness sessions three times per week. Meditation and centering particularly supports adolescents in finding themselves in the context of the universe and supports their development of self discipline and control.
Movement Physical movement is critical for growing adolescent bodies. Purposeful movement is naturally built into the RFC programming as students engage in activities supporting the class, the school, and the local community. Middle school students also will hike weekly and engage in enrichment programming including martial arts. They will also be afforded the opportunity to choose physical activities as a class.
Arts The arts will be incorporated across the curriculum to allow for multiple modes of learning and self expression. A time block has also been reserved for dedicated visual and performance-based artistic endeavors guided by teachers, parents, and professional artists.
Out of classroom learning and work experiences One afternoon each week will be dedicated to using the local environment and the Alexandria/D.C. area as an extension of the RFC Middle School classroom. Students will make use of local natural, historical, cultural, and other sites to extend their classroom learning. Excursions will be curricular driven. Some will be teacher directed and some will be student initiated and planned.
Technology and Typing Our middle-school students will be graduating into a variety of high school environments (public schools, private schools, and home schools). To prepare them for success in these environments, students will be introduced to typing, writing essays on a laptop, and safe use of technology. For this reason, each middle-school student will bring a small laptop to school daily.
Students also will be making use of Typing Club, a web-based typing tutorial app to teach them the efficient way to touch-type (a lifelong skill which will be used in high school, college, and in many careers). We have established a class account and each student will work through the lessons at their own pace.
Student usage of laptops will be carefully monitored during school hours, and the RFC emphasis on low-tech and nature will be maintained. Laptops will be used very deliberately and paper and pencils will be used for note-taking for most subjects. Google Classroom will be used to allow for collaboration and for student, teacher, and parents to see work and share comments.
Spanish Spanish is protected in the bylaws as part of RFC’s mission. When the school was founded, it was felt that exposing our students to a foreign language was a critical component to helping them become citizens of the world and opening their minds to other languages, cultures, and peoples. Spanish was specifically chosen because of its prevalence throughout our country, its use by our neighboring countries to the south, and its usefulness in future career paths.
For the middle school program, students will be using a hybrid program of in-person lessons and digital learning apps. Students will meet twice a week with our Spanish teacher for conversational lessons, grammar, writing, and reading instruction. Students will rotate through stations allowing for different students to be working at different ability levels.
The schedule is a working document and will be subject to change as adjustments need to be made.
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