Step into Middle School

Greenhill’s Head of Middle School Susan Palmer writes about the transition to Middle School in fifth grade.

Middle School is a big step. All over the community, you can hear parents discussing their doubts and fears. They share their own middle school experiences like they were yesterday, and they are fearful that their children won’t be able to cope with increased independence or expectations. Leaving the cozy confines of Lower School is cause for concern in many parents’ eyes.

But the students are ready. All of a sudden, they need a wider world full of new challenges and experiences. Their faces glow with the excitement of their own locker, independently traversing the campus, and a whole new set of privileges. Two weeks ago, our Greenhill fifth graders began the year with enthusiasm and wonder – a gift for their teachers in the Middle School. In turn, the fifth grade faculty gave to the students an intentional and well-considered transition program – one that engaged the students in a variety of ways and sent them home with a million stories to tell.

Leaving nothing to chance, the fifth grade team determined to transition their new students by purposeful activities that connected them to their new environment. They have created a First Steps program and have challenged the fifth graders with the question, “What will be your footprint on the Middle School?” In the fifth grade hallway, there is a Wall of Fifth Grade Wisdom packed with snippets of advice from past fifth graders. Team building and getting-to-know-you activities have abounded in the first weeks of school – everything from advisory trivia to personal quilts to scavenger hunts. The team planned a Day in the Park at Lake Lewisville around activities to strengthen connections and to learn about each other. They have even taken this year’s theme, “Action. Make a difference. Be the difference.”, to new heights as they identified their own personal action heroes who have eased their transition into Middle School.

In the fifth grade, advisors teach each of their advisees in an academic class, ensuring that they connect on at least two levels. As grades are gradually introduced for the first time, teachers are spending extra time examining the action behind the grade, focusing on classroom protocols, best study habits for each students, and standards of assessment. “Do overs” accompanied by reflection are common in the beginning weeks, so that students begin to take ownership of their own learning and to understand how to deepen comprehension.

Our teachers are building confidence along with competence. As students learn the ropes, they also feel a sense of inclusion – both of which are essential to a successful Middle School experience. In their first middle school year, fifth graders feel strong and excited about their future as learners – just exactly what the fifth grade team hopes to see.

Foundations of Learning in Lower School

Head of Lower School Michael Simpson talks about the learning that takes place in Greenhill classrooms during the first week of school.

What a wonderful beginning we have had! In the first three days of school, I estimate I received 300 high fives, 150 hugs, and a million smiles. Our first assembly was August 29, and it was great to have whole Lower School together, singing and welcoming our new community members.

Your child may have described his or her first day something like this: Sit around learning rules. Teachers do spend much of the first week setting up classroom rules, identifying materials, defining expectations, and showing the students the structure of their year.

But there is something else going on too. Visiting the classrooms those first few days, I saw another kind of structure-building going on. I listened to classes discussing the characteristics of leadership with their teacher—very thoughtful conversations. I joined a group of math problem solvers and we went from table to table trying to discern reasons why other students had grouped geometric shapes. I dropped in on a science class kicking off the year by reflecting on and discussing the question, “What is Science?”

Just as they are taking time to help their students learn their new surroundings, different routines, and new expectations, the teachers are taking the time so set up conceptual frameworks through which the students will inquire, learn & apply new skills, and develop comprehension and understanding. All of it is connected within what we call curricular “essential questions.” This broader perspective gives greater meaning and context to the skills our students learn and the thinking they are engaged in. As we progress through the year, the teachers get to watch the light bulbs go on as connections are made and comprehension deepens as everything comes together.

So, we welcome back our students with joy as we have once again begun working on the foundations of learning that are the focus of Lower School.

Start Your Engines! First Day in Pre-k and K at Greenhill

This week, Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood, reflects on the first day of school.

The combustion engine requires many things to get you where you going – oil, spark, fuel, cooling agent. Each engine is slightly different from the next as a weed eater often requires much priming and a lawn mower might just need a swift pull of a cord. The owner of said machine will learn how each runs and what gets each started and how to keep it consistent. There is always a particular mixture and a formula for each.

Last week at Greenhill School there were ninety-two pre-k and kindergarten children revving their engines, ready to go and explore their new world. At 8:20 am on the first day of school all were lined up, waiting to play on their new playground for the first time. As they left the ribbon behind, the race was on and all turned on their fuel at different levels. The spark for some immediately accelerated them to the top of the Explorer Dome in less than 20 seconds. Some needed a bit of priming as teachers coached them where to place a foot or a hand. Others needed to have a bit of oil added to keep them moving forward as they stopped to rest and reflect on what they had already accomplished. After a few minutes of climbing and pulling, a respite at the water table or the river was required for a few to cool down their engines and determine their next path.

Inside the classroom, only enough direction was given by the pit crew, their teachers, to prime each for independent movement. It was time to move and those doing the fueling seemed to know exactly how to inspire those needing an extra push, and give guidance to those already running at top speed. The children used the road map from the teachers to explore, and happily each chose a path and discovered what the chosen road had to offer. The pit crew was constantly observing and checking in on engines to see if refueling at the snack station or new directions were needed.

The pit crew’s time over the summer had definitely paid off to figure out how each engine ran and determine just the right fuel mixture for success. The time at homes, the time listening to parents, the time observing children, the time planning what concept was introduced first, the time scheduling the day – allowed all to have a smooth road through the week as engines were primed, fueled, and ready for a spark. I look forward to seeing how far each of these ninety-two engines will go during the course of the school year.