Physical space – This summer, intrepid facilities manager Jaime Philp completed, with some contracted help, a radical renovation of the space formerly occupied by The Hillside School. In that space, he created three new homerooms, the Hub (lounge and small kitchen), a small-group work room, and two ADA-compliant bathrooms. Mackunteers expanded the outdoor eating area to accommodate a larger number of students, and a ping-pong table and four-square courts were also added to the middle school outdoor area.
Leadership – As the number of middle school students this year is the highest yet, the need for dedicated leadership in the middle school was evident. Brenda Parker (formerly Middle School Coordinator at Broomfield Academy and Middle School Director at Foothills Academy) is Mack’s first Middle School Director. In addition to being an 8th grade homeroom teacher (with veteran Mack teacher Portia Hinshaw) and 8th grade L&L teacher, Brenda stitches together the threads of the middle school academic and social fabric. She has led the charge to establish systems and practices that will sustain a healthy, vibrant, and growing division.
Jim Parker is the new Middle School Middle Years Program coordinator. His role is to work with Brenda to provide leadership as we continue to strengthen curriculum in our academic and specialist courses. In particular, Jim is helping the middle school reflect during this year of self-study in preparation for IB re-authorization.
The middle school faculty also recognized the need for more intentional leadership development for its oldest students. This year, 8th graders have a leadership class each week—they will use this time to plan MS activities, plan and execute fundraisers for their spring trip, and more.
Trips – After several years of trying out different types of trips, this year the MS has settled on the “best fit” trips to meet the needs of our MS community. The first trip of the year was a two-day leadership retreat for the 8th grade. Brenda and new science teacher Stan Polley took the 8th grade up to the mountains where the students set up their own camp, cooked, cleaned up, hiked, rock climbed, and more, all the while practicing and reinforcing leadership skills that the 8th graders will use all year as the oldest students at Mack. The second trip was for the whole middle school. They began with a day at the Genesee High Ropes Course run by Denver Parks & Recreation and then headed up to Dillon Lake for some camping with Keystone Science School. They experienced a challenge hike and enjoyed campfire & talent show evening activities; the focus was on building empathy and relationships to ensure a strong middle school community throughout the year.
Additionally, each grade will experience a spring trip related in some way to their curriculum: the 8th grade will take a civics-focused Washington, D.C. trip, the 7th grade will spend a week of service learning at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and the 6th grade will go to Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
Friday Labs and Explorations – After attempting this in other forms, this year the middle school achieved a solution to the creation of elective courses within our already complex and full MYP schedule. On Friday mornings, almost every Mack specialist teacher is available to teach a “lab class” to middle school students. The first round of labs includes offerings such as guitar, specialized drawing skills, improv, tech/design, and academic support.
Additionally, on “long Friday” afternoons, the middle school will have its own, more flexible Explorations. These will include a significant amount of service learning/ educational trips off campus in addition to some community-building and academic-focused activities. This time will also be used for the middle school play practice for students interested in participating as cast or crew.
Homework – Finally, the middle school faculty made some intentional changes around homework. The school day was extended by 15 minutes, and the general study hall at the end of the day was eliminated; this allows for more time spent in academic classes with the idea that there will be time for students to work on what was in the past done at home, and now they have access to the teachers if they need support or guidance. This has cut down time spent on homework by at least half on most days.
As this is Mack-Boulder, the middle school will of course continue to evolve and improve—but we feel great about this newest iteration.