Russel Hall

Middle School Empowerment: 5 Ways Schools Can Better Serve Students

By Maureen Leming

When you’re a Middle School student, so many things can feel out of your control: from heightened emotions; to physical, mental, and social changes; to increasingly intensive academic responsibilities, and more.

It’s a time in life that can be overwhelming – yet it’s also a time of great growth and personal expansion. So how can schools better empower Middle School students to make the most of these “middle” years between elementary and high school?

At The Hun School of Princeton, we believe empowering Middle School students requires a holistic approach that combines academic, social, and emotional support. Schools need to have systems in place that enable students to advocate for themselves and manage the changes they’re experiencing.

Here are some of the practices we implement to foster an environment that nurtures confidence, independence, and self-awareness in our Middle School students:

#1: A community focused on positive psychology, contemporary wellness initiatives, and balance

Middle School students do well when rigorous academics are balanced with a joyful environment. At Hun, we do this by combining a traditional preparatory curriculum with exciting hands-on, project-based learning to make each day a journey of intellectual adventure and personal growth.

Beyond traditional academics, Hun also offers classes on crucial concepts like time management and study skills. One example is Study Strategies, a mandatory sixth-grade course in which students not only learn study tactics but also how to advocate for themselves and speak up when they have questions. (The course is such a hit, we also offer it as an eight-week after-school course for seventh and eighth graders who want a refresher!)

#2: Leadership opportunities that supplement academic and personal growth

Beyond the classroom, middle school is a period of personal development. Providing students with opportunities to take on leadership roles helps them develop essential skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking, accountability, and collaboration.

Hun offers a plethora of student leadership opportunities, such as Middle School Student Government and the All-School Debate. Three times per year, Hun Middle Schoolers spend a week learning how to debate and participate in debate activities. These types of opportunities ignite a sense of accomplishment, helping students to build confidence and gain experience in fulfilling commitments.

#3: Personalized, student-led learning

Student-led learning is one of the most empowering ways to seat middle school students at the forefront of their own educational experience. It pushes students to be innovative, creative, open-minded, and logical.

The small class sizes and one-on-one educational opportunities at Hun encourage personalized, student-led learning. We employ a problem-based learning methodology that offers opportunities for our students to collaborate with each other in a hands-on, active way. Problem-based learning, also known as PBL, has been proven to encourage kids to take initiative and responsibility for their own learning, which helps them to develop skills that will benefit them into adulthood.

#4: Safe experiences that draw students outside of their comfort zone

Hun operates on the principle that chances are best taken where the spirit of kindness and possibility reign together. We challenge middle school students with high academic standards and expectations, knowing that when students believe in their ability to meet these expectations, they are more likely to strive for excellence.

Here, we offer Harkness-style humanities classes, where every student participates in the discussion and is given constructive feedback on their contributions. Students are encouraged to question, analyze, and think critically about the information they encounter, as well as evaluate sources and make informed decisions.

Throughout the year, there are also many chances for students to step out of their comfort zone outside of the classroom walls. For example, each Middle School student gets the opportunity to "host" the Middle School Morning Meeting. The simple act of making general school announcements provides a time for the student to stand up in front of his or her peers and practice presentation skills.

"Hun is an innovative place that is creating strong leaders. Good schools teach leadership skills; great schools inspire ethical and empathic leadership."

Alicia Tillman ’93

CMO Delta Airlines, Hun Trustee

#5: Opportunities to serve others and make an impact

Adding service projects into the Middle School experience can be a powerful way to enrich students' education and help them become responsible, empathetic, and engaged members of their communities.

At Hun, we’ve seen firsthand that engaging in service projects allows middle school students to connect with people from different backgrounds and circumstances and helps to instill compassion, kindness, and generosity. One example: our faculty foster the concept of civic responsibility and generosity by integrating service into their curriculum, and during a recent orientation, Hun students collected canned food and volunteered at local pantries.

While benefiting the community, service projects also allow our students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom, making it more relevant to them.

At The Hun School, we recognize that Middle School students have different strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles, so it’s critical to provide support and resources tailored to their individual needs.

Empowering students in middle school means equipping them with the skills and experiences needed to become capable individuals who are engaged in their school, community, and future endeavors. By creating a supportive setting that encourages students to seek out the fullest range of their abilities and interests, middle schools can set students up for future success.

Wondering if Hun is right for your middle schooler? Visit our Admissions page to learn how to apply, or contact us at (609) 921-7600 or for more information.