Renée Price rivets us. It happens every time the Head of Middle School speaks, whether one on one or in front of a full house of parents in McAneny Theater, which was the case last night. Both her dynamic presence and her command of the totality of the middle school student experience compel us to listen and learn. At Back to School Night, Ms. Price began the evening with a rousing, "Are you ready for Middle School Back to School Night!?" And we were hooked, engaging, participating, and making discoveries together for the rest of the evening, in the theater with Ms. Price and in faculty classrooms across the Middle School.
Here are her remarks – you will be the wiser for reading them all!
As Head of Middle School, I am ready. I am ready for you to come see a glimpse into the experiences ahead for your child this year.
The truly gifted team of Princeton Day School teachers are ready. They devote most of their waking hours to the education of our children. They connect with them, nurture them and encourage them to learn more deeply than they ever thought possible.
And based on what I've seen over the past two weeks, your children were born ready! The school year is underway with so much energy, there may be scientists coming to investigate this seismic activity on the Great Road. Middle School is ablaze with academic excellence, empowerment, leadership and joyfulness.
Raise your hand if this is your first Middle School Back to School Night. Raise your hand if this is your last Middle School Back to School Night. Raise your hand if by the time this evening ends, you just hope you can find your car. Hey, you have middle schoolers. I know. I know.
Such is the life of parenting a Middle School child in 2018: exhausting and exhilarating. You have the hardest job. So much of it feels chaotic, yet I assure you, there are patterns to these mystical, middle schoolers. And the teachers at Princeton Day School know and love middle schoolers. Let me share with you some of the things I got to see over the past two weeks as I made my way to dozens of classes.
You may see some of these things, and more, this evening:
● I saw classroom norms clearly visible on the walls that told me as a visitor what to expect there. There was no yelling at children, only listening, talking and doing.
● I saw students interacting with written material they had clearly already read closely. Yet with their teacher, they were joyfully going deeper into the text, beyond the text, skillfully adding new annotations to old, and wrestling with new ways of interpreting meaning.
● I joined Math classes where students provided examples of math concepts just as fluently as non-examples. Understanding was valued over memorization.
● I visited young artists, whose efforts were bolstered by academic instruction. When students knew more, they created with greater sophistication and nuance.
● Questions. So many questions. Questions in class, in the halls, in the lunch line, at recess, all day long. SO MANY GOOD QUESTIONS.
● I saw teachers model procedures in science, math, language and more. There was no condescension there. Only mutual respect between teacher and student.
● I found structured classrooms where squeals of laughter indicated just how engaged students were in learning through competitive games.
● There was so much kindness. So many demonstrations of human kindness.
● I played some badminton with students in Sports and Activities and experienced that cooperative games are essential for a happy mind and new perspectives.
Just as Lower School did last Thursday, and Upper School families will do this Thursday, tonight we gather to celebrate this extraordinary community. of which we are all so privileged to be a part. We are here now, but we are part of something much greater, a PDS school history that extends over 50 years, and our cause tonight is worthy of celebration! We celebrate the opportunity to forge relationships for a lifetime for you and your children. Your connection to the PDS community is critical to your child's success. I urge you as parents to give this mystical, magical, middle school moment all you can through your attention, your feedback, patience, and love.
We celebrate the wisdom of students. This is what they thought I should tell you:
"Tell them we're in Middle School. They may get lost walking in here."
"Tell them we're older now -- we've grown smarter."
"Tell them there are higher expectations of us."
"Tell them they should know how we're doing - with our homework and in our classes."
"Tell them nothing! We are independent people. That's IT!!"
"I can't really think of anything to tell them, by 8th grade they know the drill already."
I asked a few Upper Schoolers if they had a message for you and they told me:
"It might be nerve-wracking to send your child through Middle School because it is different than Lower School. But even if your child makes a serious misstep, they will be treated with the utmost respect and you'll do your best to help them through."
"Tell them it will all work out."
They're right. We're here to help.
In closing, I want you to walk away tonight more confident and reassured that you and your family have support. That your child is challenged in developmentally appropriate ways that are empowering them for a lifetime. That you have made the most important choice for your child in choosing PDS.
Enjoy this evening and Go Panthers!
Photo caption: Faculty join Renée Price and Barbara Brent to help parents get to their mini-classes at Middle School Back to School Night.