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A Guide to Thrive

“They are like a zombie horde,” jokes Michael Magno. “One middle schooler is fine, but if you get a bunch together…watch out!” Mango should know—he is the Head of Middle School.

“They are stronger in numbers and they’re always looking for food or their lost backpacks.” 

Of course, Magno is kidding. Although middle school may not actually be part of the apocalypse, there are still certain skills every student needs to survive—and thrive—in these adolescent years. So Magno’s team took big steps this year to make sure the students were better equipped than ever before.

A small group of middle school faculty and staff worked together for months to create the Middle School Guide to Thrive—a bound book that includes everything from a daily planner to learning strategies, information on student life, technology and more. Some supporting content was sourced from The Learning Scientists, a cohort of cognitive psychological scientists who espouse “the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research,” according to its website.

Bobby Thompson, sixth grade History teacher and grade level Dean, was part of the team that put the guide together. 

“We didn’t buy a resource made for sixth through twelfth graders,” he said. “We created this so that it’s specific to our kids from the experts who work with them every day.” 

At the start of the school year, the Guide To Thrive was given to every incoming sixth grader, students new to PDS Middle School, and anyone else who asked for it.

Julie Hill, Middle School Learning Specialist, led the team that produced the guide, and explains the student experience transitioning from Lower School. “You go from having one teacher that plans everything for you and gives you a full script, and then you move to middle school and there’s a lot more flexibility and autonomy.”

All that freedom can be a little tough to navigate in the beginning—for students as well as their parents.

Sixth grade mom Rachel Spector says, “This was my first entrée into middle school and the unknown. It’s scary. It’s exciting too, but you just don’t know what to expect.”

Staff started to realize there was a bit of a learning curve and they wanted to help.

“We were receiving feedback that students needed help with study skills and organization,” Magno explains.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why.

Thompson added, “What we realized over the last few years is that students have gotten away from basic study and organizational skills; we recognized that the kids weren’t so great at managing themselves. They had so many things to keep track of with the transition to Middle School, so we decided to put this resource together.”

The first group of students received the guide in August, and it was such a big hit that even many seventh and eighth graders asked for it. Some parents did as well.

Sixth grader Eliana Spector says, “I’m pretty organized but memorizing my schedule and knowing where to be was a lot at first. The guide is really interesting and cool. It really helps keep me organized.”

The biggest section of the Guide To Thrive is the daily planner that offers room to write down assignments for every class, every day. The students are encouraged to always carry the guide in their backpacks so that they can take full advantage of the planner. Sixth grade teachers are reinforcing its use by starting each class with a reference to the planner and upcoming homework.

Eliana adds, “I know when things are due because it really helps to write it down. It’s kind of like our Google calendar and I still use that, but writing it down really helps me remember everything.”

Her mom Rachel agrees, admitting that even she needs help keeping track of everything and relies on a paper calendar to stay on top of her own schedule. 

“Sometimes ‘old-school’ just works! I think with young kids who are just learning study techniques, visual writing really reinforces what they get from technology. There’s something to be said about the process and how kids remember things. It’s been a good tool for Eliana.”

It’s been a good tool for a lot of kids.

Thompson says, “I’ve already seen a big difference with the sixth grade students. It’s night and day to me; it’s been remarkable. The students have been more accountable for their work and keeping all their subjects organized. I’ve had a lot fewer kids who don’t have their homework when it’s due.”

Hill adds, “My goal is to empower students to help them learn how they learn. That’s what the guide is doing. It feels good to know what you need to do as a student— to have grades that reflect your ability, rather than your disorganization.”

Based on feedback, the team decided that next year all Middle School students will get a copy of an updated Guide to Thrive.

Zombie apocalypse officially avoided.  

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