Ask anyone about their middle school experience and you will hear a variety of experiences – some positive, but many fraught with awkwardness, insecurity, academic struggle and challenging peer dynamics. They have often felt voiceless.
Middle school is challenging and is often the time that too many students start to disengage with school and stop dreaming big for themselves and by extension for their future – and we see that bear out in the academic performance of many middle schools across our state.
What if this didn’t have to be the case? What if we re-designed and re-imagined the middle school experience from the ground up, specifically to meet the needs of our middle school students? What if the typical middle school vision was replaced with empowering innovation?
The good news is that we don’t have to imagine it. Right at this moment, NMPED Secretary-designate Ryan Stewart has an application on his desk from an innovative charter school called Voz Collegiate Preparatory Charter School that encompasses that. Voz proposes to re-imagine middle school, starting in fourth grade, to reinforce fundamental academic skills to ensure that elementary students are prepared for middle school material when they transition to sixth grade. By the time students have completed their time at Voz as an eighth grader, they will have mastered the academic skills necessary to thrive in high school and beyond. They will have engaged in cutting-edge digital education by participating in coding coursework, developed the power of personal voice by honing speech and debate skills, and built positive and respectful community by working with their peers within a culture of restorative justice. Possessing a solid foundation in oral literacy helps students become strong communicators as well as build their confidence and overall sense of well-being. When students find their voice, they ignite their power.