Building Community in Middle School

Clubs, student-led programs, and arts-sharing increase interest and ownership

For Middle Level

At Harrisburg Academy, we've found that one of the best ways to build a positive, healthy learning community is to appeal to students' need for involvement, control, and fun. Over the years, we've developed several programs that empower students to make our school an exciting, fun, happening place to be. Here are some examples.

Open Stage

Open Stage is a student-run program. Each Friday students have an opportunity to perform before their peers in our school's auditorium. Acts include, but are not limited to, rock bands, solo and orchestral classical groups, jazz combos, dance performances, and standup comedy. Performing and attending are optional and don't interfere with the regular schedule (they're held during a short recess time). Prior to each session, information about upcoming acts is displayed on an easel in a highly visible central location. Open Stage's success and popularity depend on student leadership. A member of the student council is responsible for coordinating it. She recruits acts, creates the performance schedules, advertises them, and emcees each session. The energy surrounding these performances is very positive and enthusiastic, due largely to the fact that students feel they own the events.

Middle School Clubs

Middle school clubs are scheduled into the flow of the school week (one period out of a six-day cycle). Each teacher determines what club s/he would like to offer based on his or her areas of experience/expertise, preferences, and predicted student interest. Clubs include both indoor and outdoor activities and are designed to meet a variety of student interests. Examples of clubs we've offered include:

skateboarding
Sim City
butterfly garden
hiking
model making
quiz bowl
literature
French
Latin
cricket
board games
tennis
pottery
origami
science
model rocketry
weather
architecture

The club offerings change each quarter, and students make their selections for a club by picking their top three choices during an Advisory meeting. Teachers collect student choices, form clubs, and post the rosters.

The Gallery

Looking for an easy way to celebrate your school's art classes? Without a lot of effort, a cafeteria can be transformed into a gallery. To make this transformation happen, a school might go so far as to purchase reusable frames and perhaps even install track lighting to set a special atmosphere, but neither is required for success. In our school, student art work displayed in the Gallery is rotated every two weeks and is labeled; labels include the student's name and grade, and the artwork's title and medium/materials. After we purchased the frames and installed the track lighting, we began referring to our cafeteria as the Gallery. We liked this name, so placards reading "The Gallery" were mounted outside the entrances to cafeteria, and now just about everybody at our school considers our lunchroom to be one of the better art museums in the area! When we eat, we're surrounded by our own wonderful artistic creations.

Thomas Banks is the Head of Middle and Upper Schools at Harrisburg Academy in Harrisburg PA.

Published January 2008