Head of Middle School Jay Greytok '83 presented the following remarks at Middle School Parents Night on teaching boys scholarship, friendship, and character. “These three virtues could well represent three solid floors in our pledge to prepare boys for life,” he said.
It is interesting to consider how often we use the word "building" when relating the growth and maturity of adolescent boys. We might mention that middle school is a time to build scholarship, to build friendship, and to build young men of great character. Just like our new middle school building, these three virtues could well represent three solid floors in our pledge to prepare boys for life. While we introduce these topics of scholarship, friendship, and character in Lower School during the elementary years, we build on this firm foundation, from which our middle school teachers continue to place brick upon brick, floor after floor.
For instance, to build on scholarship, we must understand all aspects of the adolescent mind and the challenges that it presents. We must monitor current research and make the appropriate adjustments to our curriculum to provide our boys every possible opportunity for the future. A recent statistic states that nationwide, boys are falling behind girls in reading and writing. However, we also know that boys who read an average of 15 minutes or more each day see an increase in verbal acuity and written expression. Therefore, for 30 minutes every Wednesday and for the first 30 minutes of every Reading and Prep class, boys stop, drop, and read.
While we introduce these topics of scholarship, friendship, and character in Lower School during the elementary years, we build on this firm foundation, from which our middle school teachers continue to place brick upon brick, floor after floor.
We also know that students who have more time to reflect and think about the work they do in class exhibit better retention of material and greater success in the classroom. This, as well as other similar research, encouraged us in the creation of longer class periods in middle school. Now teachers and students have more time to wrestle with a topic and complete a full lesson in one class session versus spreading a concept over multiple days. Finally, we also know adolescent boys move at a very fast pace and may forget to take inventory of their current academic situation and request guidance or assistance. Therefore, we built more time in the day to see teachers, receive direction and advice, as well as find support for the boy's efforts. Our new schedule allows us these opportunities to build their decision-making skills, their character, and ultimately, their scholarship during the academic day and the future.
The completion of this first floor allows us to venture to understand the emotional side of adolescents and their need for friendship. While we know girls tend to be more verbal than boys, boys are just as emotional. While they may not give hugs and scream, "I love you" upon meeting after a long summer break, they find their own method of delivering the same message. Whether a smile, non-verbal grunt, or back-handed compliment, boys develop their own language to scratch the friendship itch that is so vital for their existence. Guys know a punch in the arm is the same as a hug or a non-verbal smile equals acceptance and "I love you." Their rules that govern their hegemonic masculinity are cultural but we understand their language and help them find friends as well as build meaningful relationships.
By the end of three years in middle school, every Middle School teacher knows every student and most parents. At Haverford, we teach, we advise, and we coach. We take the time to build relationships, the teacher/student bond, which are so vital to the success of our boys.
As part of my continuing education, this summer I had the opportunity to sit down with ten heads of schools in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and interview them regarding enrollment, engagement, and the sustainability of independent schools through the practice of emotional intelligence. As they answered questions, each responded in detail about the direction of their schools. They also shared how many decisions are consistent with their schools' mission and vision. In other words, each school is very different. However, one surprising consistency is the value they all placed on building relationships with students as a key to success for their schools. Independent schools benefit greatly in this area with smaller classes, dedicated triple threat faculty (those who teach, advise, and coach their students), and invested parents. By the end of three years in middle school, every Middle School teacher knows every student and most parents. At Haverford, we teach, we advise, and we coach. We take the time to build relationships, the teacher/student bond, which are so vital to the success of our boys. Second floor complete.
Whether through leadership, service, teamwork, or kindness, we all work to build young men better than those who preceded them. As they learn from us, we learn from them.
We reach the third floor and boy who climb this high are, with each step they take, building character. While rarely do boys build character by walking uphill for miles in a blizzard to get to school as their grandparents did or dig 100-foot trenches in the rain with a spoon like my father used to tell me, our boys find character building through education about our world and interactive learning. Whether through leadership, service, teamwork, or kindness, we all work to build young men better than those who preceded them. As they learn from us, we learn from them. We define their character as more than just achievement but by their learning through their effort and resiliency. By Form II, we not only hope, but also expect, as young men of great character, that our boys can define their passions, set and achieve their goals, and are eager and ready for our Upper School. Once they arrive, their teachers, advisors, and coaches will polish what we built for them and maybe add a few floors as well, all in an effort to prepare our boys for college and for life.