Middle School is a wonderful period of transition as students grow into themselves and explore the world beyond themselves. The Austin Preparatory Middle School program seeks to engage each student’s heart and mind as they begin their Journey at Austin Prep.
Here is a glimpse of one of our more recent projects that personifies the Middle School experience - the end-of-course trip to Newport, Rhode Island for students taking Topics in Art History: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. This course examined the lifestyles of America’s rich and famous Gilded Age elite – some of them local personalities in New England. Throughout the semester, students explored architectural styles and refined their observational skills. The class examined the palatial homes of the Vanderbilt family and how they were built, the art at those estates, and the culture that captivated their daily lives. As an Augustinian school committed to social justice, students also considered “how the other half lived” – the army of servants and cooks that worked at those homes and the multitude of laborers and factory workers, many recent immigrants. Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School, created the class and, in the process, became a National Geographic Certified Educator. The video below was part of Mr. McLaughlin's capstone and captures the spirit of the class project.
A Tradition of Excellence
Walk down the halls of Austin Prep’s Middle School, and you might notice some lockers decorated for students celebrating birthdays. According to Mr. Michael McLaughlin, Head of Middle School, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“It’s totally age-appropriate for our students. We try to create a learning environment that fits.”
The entire Middle School could be wrapped in a bow this year as it celebrates its 30th year of operation. Each class has found different ways to recognize the milestone this year – from a special Mass in Saint Augustine Chapel to studying “artifacts” from the 80’s to assembling multimedia to be included in a student-designed time capsule.
At Austin Prep, middle school is a school within a school optimized for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders and staffed by professionals who are specialists in engaging, motivating, and teaching kids that age.
Early adolescence is a time of intense transition for kids, emotionally, physically, and academically. Middle school students are wired for autonomy and seek independence yet fear embarrassment and rejection. Empowerment involves students not only making choices but also making mistakes. Like explorers, students must take risks, fail, regroup, and try again. It is in the adventure of risk-taking where true scholastic and personal growth happens. With small classes of around 15 students, teachers can get to know the whole child and create a learning style that works.
To meet the demand for rigorous academic programs, the faculty takes a multidisciplinary approach, with an emphasis on developing a global perspective. According to McLaughlin, “studying a subject from a variety of angles at once enables kids to go deeper and make connections they might otherwise miss.”
He cites the Sixth Grade Egyptian Museum as this sort of learning experience. “The kids work collaboratively, but as individuals, become experts in different aspects of Egypt’s history and culture. From multimedia video projects to hand-made artifacts, oral presentations, and character acting, we are able to activate and nurture different learning styles.”
Choice and voice in the Egyptian Museum project and other experiences truly personalize the curriculum. “We allow students the opportunity to decide some things for themselves, to take calculated risks. That’s why we offer course in everything from Robotics to Broadway choreography. The underlying objective is to help them get a better idea of who they are and where their talents lie.”
As rich as the Middle School curriculum is, students also must participate in co-curricular activities to get the most from their Austin Prep education.
Community service, for example is taken very seriously – it is the core Augustinian value of caritas, love, in action. To quote Headmaster James Hickey, Ph.D., “It’s not enough to study theology, you have to do theology.”
“On Tuesdays, a small group visits elderly people at a nearby nursing home.” McLaughlin said. “Not just once, regularly. This gives students a change to develop relationships over time.”
Involvement in the community multiplies the ways students can learn – it puts academics into action, adds Nicole Putney, English Faculty. “The classroom, playing field, service site, home environment all intersect to the benefit of student development.”
Austin celebrates persistence, determination, originality, individuality, and excellence. On their Journey at Austin Prep, middle school students progress toward the ideal that scholarship, spirituality, and character are inseparable attributes of who they are.
I invite you to explore these pages to learn more about the Austin Preparatory Middle School Program and, of course, to visit us on campus to experience it in action.