Beyond the Three "Rs": Elmwood's New Middle School Enrichment Program

Peek inside a middle school classroom at 12:30 on any given Tuesday and you might find girls working on their crow pose. If it is Thursday, you could see girls designing and coding their own online game, or learning about how to manage money. On Fridays, you might happen upon a drum circle. With the introduction of our new enrichment program, a typical day in Elmwood’s Middle School would be considered anything but typical to most.

Introduced in September 2017, the genesis of this innovative program goes back to the curriculum review the school undertook starting in January 2016. The guiding question for that review was “Does our curriculum meet the needs of our students?” Asking this question revealed that there was an appetite for an enhanced curriculum in the Middle School—one that would offer balance, and empower girls with choice and opportunity to try new things.

After careful consideration and research into best practices, the vision for the pro- gram was articulated by the MYP Innovation Team: to provide purposeful multi-grade activities that would support the development of the whole girl. The program runs four days a week in the period after lunch, and girls choose from a range of options under umbrella themes each day: creativity on Monday, activity on Tuesday, STEM on Thursday and life skills on Friday. The courses feature hands- on, real-world activities that are engaging and meaningful. The traditional middle school curriculum does not offer much in the way of choice, so enrichment is an excellent opportunity for girls to learn more about something they are already interested in, or to try something completely new.

Elmwood student Madighan Ryan ’22 has really enjoyed the program so far, “The enrichment program is a great way to explore areas and subjects that we would not typically be exposed to. It has given all middle school students a choice to select subjects they are truly passionate about—from fashion design, to coding, to a third language. My favourite enrichment subject has been vocal jazz, as I got to experience something completely different and new. I love music and especially singing, so this was the enrichment for me. Other students chose different subjects that they wanted to learn more about.”

In addition to offering choice to our students, enrichment also gives them opportunity for self-regulation and motivation. Enrichment classes do not result in a letter grade—though learning outcomes are developed and delivered for each course, and feedback is given to the students on their progress.

Gabrielle Merkley ’23, thinks the new program offers numerous benefits, “The enrichment program provides us with amazing experiences. I have enjoyed all of my enrichment classes. I love that we have the opportunity to choose what we want to do, have multiple options to pick from, and that there is a theme for each day of the week.” She goes on to say, “My favourites so far are yoga and Mini Med Lab. Although yoga challenges us physically and mentally, we also know that we are in an environment where there isn’t any pressure, where we aren’t being assessed and can focus on ourselves, and our self-improvement. Dissecting the frog was my favourite part of Mini Med Lab because we learned the concepts and techniques of dissection while being able to explore the frog’s anatomy and physiology.”

In addition to this excellent feedback from students, reports from those delivering the program have also been overwhelmingly positive. “The teachers are enjoying develop- ing curriculum in these new areas, and seeing how it creates a buzz amongst their students,” said Deputy Head, James Whitehouse. “There’s nothing like seeing the spark of interest in a student’s eyes when you introduce a concept and they discover a new passion.”

Though only nine months in to this new program, it is exciting to see how it has been embraced by our students, and how it is bringing balance to our girls. They are able to explore diverse subjects and skills beyond the traditional curriculum, and develop new passions and interests that will stay with them well beyond their middle school years. There’s certain to be a future coroner, actress, programmer or financier in our midst.

By Teresa Stirling