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Middle School: Grades 6–8
Welcome to Rowland Hall's independent private middle school. Our teachers recognize the years of growth and discovery that happen here. It's a unique transitional period from the creativity and imagination of childhood to the abstract thinking and global perspectives of young adulthood.
We provide an educational program that holistically supports early adolescent students in achieving academic success and positive personal growth. Rowland Hall's dedicated faculty create a supportive, caring environment that motivates and challenges students. The teachers are as knowledgeable in their subject matter as they are in understanding students’ unique needs, whether cognitive, emotional, or physical.
Our curriculum is relevant, challenging, and exploratory. Teachers use a variety of instructional and assessment methods grounded in research and best practices. We empower our students to be well-rounded, inspired, and compassionate individuals.
At this year's fifth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade graduation ceremonies, student speakers shared funny, reflective, and inspiring stories.
Seniors Maddy Frech and Zach Benton (pictured above), as well as Senior Celebration speaker Chiara Kim, expressed their gratitude for the positive ways the Rowland Hall community shaped their lives. Eighth graders Tessa Bartlett, Jojo Park, and Ainsley Moore reflected on the importance of friendship through their middle-school years, and several fifth-grade students thanked their teachers, family, and friends for creating a supportive and engaging learning environment in the Lower School—especially during a pandemic.
We have posted their speeches here for you to enjoy.
It’s been 100 years since the 1920s, but eighth-grade American studies teacher Mary Jo Marker believes the nuances between then and now have never been more relevant.
An interest in the parallels in time inspired Mary Jo to create a centenary project for her eighth graders in which she broke students into small groups and asked them to create a magazine based on the 1920s. Each group was asked to choose an overall theme for the magazine—this could be anything from fashion to politics to technology—and, within that theme, to focus on one aspect, like makeup or the stock market in the 1920s.
“I thought it might be interesting to have the kids explore the 1920s more in depth,” explained Mary Jo, “and to do that in a more creative way that gave them voice and choice in how they approached their research around the 1920s.” To the students, this concept of voice and choice is invaluable when it comes to learning—it not only empowers them to be independent but it also builds engagement and allows them to broaden their interests and skills.
After deciding on their groups’ themes for the magazine, the students were instructed to each write a 1,000-word article on their particular topics, each of which would appear in the finished publications. “One thing they all did really well,” reflected Mary Jo, “was meet the thousand-word limit, which was really a challenge for them.”
When students are granted creative and academic freedom, they can produce some truly wonderful results.—Eighth-grader Milo B.
When it came to the magazines’ details, Mary Jo asked the students to use the Library of Congress to find advertisements, letters to the editor, and political cartoons to add to their projects to round them out and create end products that looked like actual magazines. Eighth grader Milo B. excelled in this project and credits much of his success to the great deal of creative liberties Mary Jo allowed the students. “When students are granted creative and academic freedom, they can produce some truly wonderful results, like the magazine,” Milo reflected. “Ms. Marker did a fantastic job in managing this project.”
When all was said and done, the eighth graders delivered some truly impressive pieces. Upon perusing the display of their work on the second floor in the Middle School, it is hard to not be blown away by the variety of topics and the immense creativity each group brought forward in both their design and in their writing.
“It was great to see the personality of all the groups come out,” said Mary Jo. “I was really proud of them. I set a high bar, and by and large the majority were able to meet the learning targets and goals of the project.”
And in doing so, the students were able to recognize how history can be reflected in our own modern world by highlighting connections between society 100 years ago and today. The work the students created reveals a lot about their work ethic, creativity, and the outstanding guidance they received from Mary Jo, but it also reflects the collaborative nature of the Middle School—both among students, and between students and faculty.
“I think this project reflects the willingness to be vulnerable and take risks to really set a high standard and work to meet it,” reflected Mary Jo. “This goes across the board, in the Middle School for students and adults alike.”
Mary Jo also noted how it is worth remembering, when looking at this project and future projects, that kids will rise to whatever occasion you set for them, so we mustn’t forget to create challenging opportunities for them to aspire to.
In mathematics, students learn the definition of an equation: a statement that shows the values of two mathematical expressions are equal (for example, x – 5 = 10).
But math teachers, including Garrett Stern, who teaches in the Middle School, want students to understand that an equation isn’t just numbers and letters on a page. “An equation,” said Garrett, “relates to an image on the graph.”
For many of our math students, this piece of algebra art represents their pinnacle achievement in middle school math.—Garrett Stern, math teacher
These images can take a variety of forms—such as lines, parabolas, and circles—which, when placed together on a graph, can do something exciting: they can create art.
To help illustrate the visual beauty in mathematical equations, Garrett has for the past six years assigned his students the task of creating their own algebra art using the Desmos graphing calculator, a free resource used by educators around the world. Every year, he’s found that Rowland Hall students are able to produce inventive, and often very impressive, works of art.
“For many of our math students, this piece of algebra art represents their pinnacle achievement in middle school math,” said Garrett.
At an April 15 student assembly, Garrett highlighted algebra art as well as recognized the accomplishments of this year’s crop of artists. He was joined by three students, Rebecca M., Jojo P., and Erika P., who created some of the most outstanding pieces in this year’s unit. Below, these students share their algebra art experiences with the Rowland Hall community.
“Star Destroyer” by Rebecca M.
Rebecca’s drawing of a Star Destroyer is one of this year’s most complicated pieces. In fact, the Star Wars fan’s subject was so detailed that Garrett said he initially attempted to talk her out of it.
“I tried to dissuade Rebecca from trying her idea,” he remembered, “but she rejected my advice.”
Rebecca—who was inspired to tackle the Star Destroyer after viewing an algebra art drawing of an AT-AT, or All-Terrain Armored Transport, that now-junior Dillon Fang created when he took Garrett’s class—admitted that, although she was able to complete her chosen subject in the end, the process of creating the Star Destroyer was very challenging.
“I was quite confident going into this project, but my confidence began to dwindle after doing some equations,” she said. Rebecca especially remembers the difficulty of creating the ship’s bridge. “It has many small pieces that you don’t think about until you have to trace it with algebra equations.”
Rebecca said the time-consuming three to four weeks it took to complete her project required a lot of patience and resilience—but that it was worth it because it taught her she can do difficult things.
“I am super proud of it. I would gladly do it again,” said Rebecca. “I managed to push through and made a really cool design.”
“Simplicity” by Jojo P.
Jojo loves line drawings, especially of people, and discovered that she could successfully recreate the curves of a traditional ink-and-paper line drawing in the online Desmos format—an accomplishment that caught her math teacher’s attention.
“What impresses me most about Jojo's piece is the stylish curvature,” Garrett said.
But creating her project wasn’t easy. Jojo remembers feeling far behind her classmates in the early days of the assignment.
“I didn't really know how to make the equations,” she said. “In the beginning, all I had was about five lines, when everybody else had way more done. I was scared I would be behind.” Instead of panicking, however, she persisted, figuring out the equations she needed and building on her skills as she moved from long lines and wide curves to nail and flower details, which she said were definitely the hardest part of the drawing.
“When it was finished, I felt proud,” Jojo remembered. “I felt awestruck because I didn't think I could do anything like this.” It’s clear that the experience built her confidence in a way that will continue to benefit her.
“The project was challenging, but it showed me, as a mathematician, what I actually was capable of,” Jojo said.
"Ornate Owl" by Erika P.
Garrett chose to highlight Erika's piece at the assembly because she managed to include texture—although she said that hadn’t been her original plan.
“I wanted to create an owl because owls are my favorite animal, but I hadn’t planned on making it so detailed,” Erika explained.
After experimenting with equations for the owl’s body, beak, talons, and eyes, Erika said she felt like she needed to add more to her drawing and started on what turned out to be its most complicated component: feathers.
“I had to try out multiple numbers in order to get the feathers—which were created out of parabolas—to be thin and long enough to look good if I consistently spread them throughout the wings,” she said. The feathers alone took Erika over two hours to complete, and are just one example of the experimentation she had to do to create a piece that she was proud to turn in.
“The hardest part was getting shapes and lines to line up and intersect, as well as experimenting with equations to get shapes that looked at least somewhat realistic,” she remembered. “I just had to jump into it.”
Now, Erika said, she can’t imagine her drawing without those detailed additions, and she’s proud she challenged herself.
“I was glad I decided to add detail because I was thinking about submitting the work before then, but it just didn’t feel like a finished piece,” she said. “After finishing, I felt quite accomplished!"
Altogether, this year’s eighth-grade class created 75 pieces of algebra art. Below are some examples of their work (click each square to see the artwork larger on Desmos).
“Our students deservedly feel proud of their achievements,” said Garrett. “They ambitiously attempted challenging images, embraced sophisticated equations, attended to detail, and, above all, persevered.”
March 11, 2021, marked one year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and many people around the globe used the occasion to reflect on how their lives had changed over the previous 12 months.
In Rowland Hall’s Middle School, eighth-grade English teacher Chelsea Vasquez viewed the anniversary as an opportunity to help students process their COVID-19 experiences within the context of other cultural and historical factors featured in the choice novels they’re currently reading in their coming-of-age English unit.
Reading enables us to make sense of our own lived experiences.—Chelsea Vasquez, eighth-grade English teacher
“One of the ideas I'm trying to convey is the universality of themes—the fact that the things characters experience in books happen in the real world,” said Chelsea. This universality of themes extends to non-fiction texts, too, and Chelsea pointed out that guiding students toward making text-to-self and text-to-world connections within a variety of reading materials can be a valuable way to help them understand events happening to and around them.
“Reading enables us to make sense of our own lived experiences,” she explained.
As a way to practice this skill, Chelsea had students read “Coming of Age: Teens on a Year That Changed Everything,” a New York Timesarticle published the week of the pandemic anniversary that showcased teens’ reflections on life during COVID-19. “They could see examples of things other students, some their age, had created, and then consider how these artifacts mirrored or differed from their own experiences,” Chelsea said.
After they read the article, the eighth graders reflected on a list of questions generated by The New York Times’ learning network and wrote responses. Those responses—insightful, thoughtful, and poignant—offer a valuable and touching glimpse into the pandemic experiences of some of our Rowland Hall students. With their permission, we have shared a sampling of excerpts from those reflections below. (Text has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Reflections on What the Collection Says about Coming of Age during a Pandemic
"This collection shows that everyone struggled during quarantine. It got worse before it got better. It also showed that everyone had different ways of coping. Contributor Sunnina Chen talked about how she felt like she was suffocating, but realized she was the one pulling the ‘Saran Wrap’ tighter over her head. I relate to this because, as quarantine went on, I felt like every decision I made made it harder for me to be happy and stay motivated. I, like Sunnina, realized that I was causing my own sadness and decided to let go of everything that wasn’t making me happy. With that, things started looking up again. It got better after it got worse." —Kavitha K.
"Because we are coming of age during difficult times, we have learned to be more resilient and resourceful. We have been separated from many of those who make us happy, and that has taught us to find happiness around us and within us. I can 100% relate to feeling isolated and lonely, which has shaped me to be a (hopefully) more gracious and kind person.” —Rebecca M.
Reflections on the Themes, Words, Images, and Ideas That Spoke to Them
"The idea that seems to cover almost every entry was loneliness. The type of loneliness felt in the pandemic was not ordinary. It required learning how to not be lonely when you don’t have social interaction. Learning how to be friends with yourself. From my perspective, when you can do that, you are never lonely, even in a pandemic. I think being friends with yourself is coming-of-age at its finest (and I think this applies to every generation, as we are constantly evolving humans).” —Adara S.
"Two themes especially stood out to me. The first was participating in change. Whether it was fighting for racial justice or LGBTQ+ rights, many submissions showed teenagers working to change their communities for the better. The second was hardship and isolation. Many pieces illustrated self-doubt, depression, anxiety, and pure boredom. While it is true that people of all ages experienced these feelings, I think it hit teenagers especially hard. Social interaction, movement, and change are things that many teenagers cherish and—to some extent—need. The pandemic has deprived many teenagers of these things.” —Aiden G.
Reflections on What’s Missing from the Collection
"The collection didn't address sibling bonding during COVID. I got to play with my brother more than I've done since we were toddlers. Though this started with simply having nothing else to do, I soon realized it's nice to talk to a sibling. A lot of brothers and sisters did. This collection also missed how grandparents suddenly became so important. I didn't see my paternal grandma until around summertime, as she lives in a memory care center and those were locked down." —Sophia L.
"I feel that the collection seems to miss how masks affected us socially. Personally, I had such a difficult time with masks—facial expressions are the key to my socialization. I had to adjust with only reading the upper half of people’s faces, and it is much harder to understand body language when you're six feet apart and banned from the language of touch." —Dylan B.
"What’s missing from this collection—or at least not strongly highlighted—are the benefits of the powerful emotions felt throughout the pandemic. These emotions were what allowed us to create some of our strongest pieces of art, poetry, or whatever we enjoy doing with a deeper sense of passion—a passion that one will still be able to feel after looking at the piece years and years later. This can help others understand and connect with you in a way that would have never been expressed through just having a conversation." —Erika P.