An independent day school serving grades K-12 | St. Paul, MN

Curriculum & Community

In Middle School, students are becoming more independent and figuring out who they are as individuals. Spending time with peers doing activities they enjoy is an important part of this process, and the Middle School curriculum and community reflects that.

The Middle School experience is based on increased academic rigor combined with increased freedom of choice; support for the social/emotional needs of young adolescents using the Developmental Designs for Middle School social/emotional learning program; the use of an advisory system to set clear standards and expectations for individual behavior and community norms; and a series of experiential learning opportunities that complement and support the curriculum. The six-day block schedule includes three 85-minute class periods every day, and built-in time for recess, all-division assemblies, study time, and the Activities program.

By the time they enter the Upper School, Middle School students are prepared academically for the rigors of advanced study. They have learned to manage their time, make good choices, and advocate for themselves and their ideas.

Behind the Scenes in the Middle School

In our "Behind the Scenes" video series, we asked Middle School students to make videos that show what life is really like at SPA. 

Behind the Scenes at SPA: Middle School English

Academic Program

The Middle School follows an academically rigorous curriculum that also offers students some choice in their areas of focus.  All students take core courses in English/language arts, social studies, math, science, and physical education; students also study a world language of their choice (Spanish, French, German, or Chinese) and choose to play a musical instrument or sing in the choir. Middle School students rotate through trimester-long courses in art, drama, wellness, and technology. Learn more about the curriculum in Grade 6, Grade 7, and Grade 8.

Developmental Designs

Developmental Designs for Middle School (DDMS) is used throughout the Middle School to promote social, emotional, and academic growth. Because student success at this age relies on a blend of good relationships, social skills, and engagement with learning, the practices inherent in DDMS integrate social and academic learning. All Middle School faculty at SPA are trained in the DDMS approach, which is designed to meet adolescents' needs for autonomy, competence, relationship, and fun, so that Middle School students genuinely enjoy school and learning. Learn more about Developmental Designs for Middle School.

Six-Day Schedule

The Middle School follows a six-day block schedule, which gives teachers the flexibility to incorporate both collaborative projects and individualized instruction into their courses. Because the block schedule both extends class meetings and spreads subjects out over longer periods, students have time to better absorb complex material. The 85-minute length of each allows ample opportunity for all three of the elements of deep learning: planning, exploration, and reflection. View a sample Middle School schedule.

Advisory

The advisory program is where the Middle School curriculum and community come together, and the work students do in advisories defines life and community in the Middle School. The advisory system is a fundamental element of the Middle School experience.  Advisory is essentially a class on social/emotional skills and community building and is the building block upon which the rest of the Middle School curriculum is built. Advisories help students feel connected, empowered, and safe to take academic risks, so they engage more with each other and the curriculum.  

Advisories are groups of 10-12 students in the same grade with a faculty advisor who is a member of that grade-level team.  Advisories meet each morning for check-in and each afternoon for a quiet study period.  Advisory meetings follow a specific teaching and learning framework, in alignment with the Developmental Designs approach used across the Middle School curriculum: students circle up to greet each other respectfully, share what's happening in their lives, engage in activities that teach important skills in a lively way, and reflect on experiences.  Advisories often include cultural conversations which build students' appreciation for diversity and respect for individual differences within the peer group.

Students advisors are the primary contact for families, since they know the students best. Advisors serve as advocates for students, facilitate student-teacher meetings as needed, explore how individual students learn best, and help them set goals.

Experiential Learning

Over the course of the Middle School years, students participate in several interdisciplinary experiential learning opportunities that are connected to the curriculum but take place outside of the classroom. Some of these opportunities take the form of off-campus retreats, such as the week-long Grade 7 trip to Camp Widjiwagan in northern Minnesota; others take place at school but in different spaces and formats than the regular school day.

Experiential learning takes the form of activities, projects, experiments, exploration, performances, or public events in the Middle School. These experiential learning opportunities are an important part of student life and are often the moments that students remember the most from Grades 6-8 because the experiences involve intensive, hands-on learning, and engaging interactions with teachers and peers.

For more about experiential learning in the Middle School, visit the grade level pages for Grade 6, Grade 7, and Grade 8.

Activities

Middle School Activities are elective classes that meet during X-period, once per week for 5- to 6-week sessions. Activities give students a change of pace and an opportunity to pursue interests outside their core academic subjects; students can choose anything from Ultimate Frisbee to knitting. Because activities are mixed-age, students get to know each other across the grades and outside their regular group of friends and classmates.

Students choose three different activities over the course of the school year.  Activities vary every trimester; below are examples of activities offered in recent years: 

- Middle School Newspaper
- Middle School Yearbook
- Geography Bee
- Board Games
- Cooking 
- Girls Can Code
- Dungeons and Dragons
- Basketball
- Movie Making
- Knitting and Fiber Arts
- Outdoor Ball Games
- Service and Leadership
- Kickball 
- Martial Arts
- Ultimate Frisbee
- Global Girls in Fiction and Non-Fiction
- Drawing Inside and Outside 
- Yoga 

Assembly

Middle School assemblies are vibrant, student-led gatherings that bring the community together. The Middle School Spartan Council, a group of student leaders, plans and leads assemblies which are often celebrations of student work. Throughout the year there are various special assemblies that give students the opportunity to share with their peers. Events such as the the Winter Geography Bee, previews of Middle School theatrical productions and concerts, the Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly, and Pi Day are yearly traditions that are highly-anticipated community events for both Middle School students and faculty.

Extracurricular and After School Programs

Middle School life continues well after the end of the school day at 3 p.m. Families who need after-school care may enroll in our supervised After School Program, or take advantage of one of our many after-school extracurricular activities for Middle Schoolers, including athletics (almost 80% of Middle School students play on at least one SPA team), theatrical productions, private music lessons, and Lego League. Learn more about After School Programs.

Technology

Technology as a learning tool: In Grade 6, each student is assigned a school-owned laptop for use in school and at home during the school year. This laptop is used across classes as an essential tool for content creation, research, organization, and collaboration. Necessary technology skills are developed in the context of academic classes where they are needed, often taught collaboratively by the content teacher and an integration specialist. Strategies encouraging responsible use of technology, both personally and academically, are emphasized in all grades through Advisory and Compass courses. Students also use school laptops for a range of extra-curricular activities, such as Lego League, Technovation, and the Middle School Yearbook. By the end of Grade 8, students are prepared to transition from using school-owned technology to more independent use of personal technology in the Upper School.

Computer Science and Engineering: All Middle School students take a Computer Science (CS) class every year. CS 6 begins with programming in a block-based environment. Students are introduced to physical computing and explore how the concepts they learn can be applied across the Middle School curriculum. In CS 7, students apply computer science skills to program simulations related to thematic topics. Students continue to explore physical computing and create an individual project. CS 8 focuses on building an abstract understanding of computational constructs and computational thinking skills. Students who complete Computer Science 6, 7, and 8 courses in Middle School enter Grade 9 ready to explore Upper School advanced computer science electives.