From the Head of Middle School, Vahn Phayprasert

In sustaining a Middle School program that honors and celebrates the stage of human development called early adolescence, Parker strives to model and curate spaces for developing empathy and identity, with countless opportunities for students to grow intellectually, personally and socially, Our Middle School faculty and staff offer all children the sense of safety and belonging they need to be themselves and engage in a process of self-discovery. An Advisory program provides students with an adult mentor at school who helps them make sound decisions, set priorities and size-up challenges. As the parent of an early adolescent, you may consider the Advisor your point person at school, collaborating with you to promote student independence, self-advocacy and the self-confidence that results from playing a larger role in problem solving and working through challenges with greater self-sufficiency. Our Middle Schoolers also lead full lives beyond the classroom, engaging in community service, athletics and myriad club activities that lead to the discovery of new fields, talents, friendships, mentors, contexts, issues and identities. These activities also provide opportunities for early adolescents to practice and demonstrate responsibility, citizenship (esteeming service to community above service to self), cooperation, active listening, leadership and resilience. We do everything with our Middle Schoolers with thoughtfulness and intention, designed and facilitated by educators who possess expertise in early adolescence and find joy in working with this unique age group.

Our Approach to Middle School

Parker’s educational model, rooted in the rich legacy of Colonel Parker and the metaphor of school being a “Model Home,” is well-suited to Middle Schoolers. This model includes a diverse, inclusive and intimate school community; inspirational teachers who know their students personally and are empowered to pursue organic, authentic opportunities for teaching and learning that emerge from their students; compelling curricula that motivates students to be thoughtful, creative and engaged with enthusiasm in school and community life; and an emphasis on preparing students to embrace their responsibilities as involved citizens in a free, pluralistic and democratic society, seeking, always, to contribute to higher levels of equity and inclusion for the greater good, and committing to a lifetime of growing one's empathy and cultural competency. The Middle School years involve tremendous cognitive, physical and social changes that simultaneously excite, inspire, frustrate and unsettle early adolescents. Puberty has a way of heightening self-consciousness, disrupting friendships and encouraging various forms of rebellion (most of them healthy and necessary). While children at this stage of development are engaging in more abstract reasoning, are invigorated by positive social interaction with both peers and adults and hunger for new levels of responsibility and independence, they also crave clear boundaries, thoughtful guidance and a measure of structure that serves as a safety net for their many explorations. Knowing our students personally and maintaining close communication between school and home are important keys to the success of our program. Early adolescents seek to define more clearly their own identities—both who they are and who they aspire to be—while simultaneously facing the practical need to compromise their own wants and needs to gain acceptance to a group. And this process takes a number of years to complete, with adolescents finding a way to be true to both themselves and a community or group. Middle School exists, ultimately, so that children can practice getting what they need from the world when their parents or caregivers no longer mostly do it for them.
Early adolescents surely feel the anxieties and pressures of growing up in the 21st Century, and although it can be hard to maintain perspective, it remains true that the ideal environment for promoting growth has optimism and joyfulness; enthusiastic engagement without the crippling fear of failure; the safety and freedom to be one’s authentic self while helping those around us do the same; the development of cultural competency so we all come to understand and appreciate our own complex identities and contexts and those of others unlike us; creative, collaborative and meaningful intellectual discourse; perseverance and resilience as primary values and omnipresent goals; and a shared vigorous commitment to sustaining a community that strives with fervor to be the most equitable for all—especially when it’s hard and when no one is quite certain what to do. Although there are times doing something (anything?) may help us as adults feel better, pressure, perfectionism, competition, high-stakes testing and a focus on grades stunt growth and limit a child’s opportunities to succeed, rather than expand them. It is, therefore, in those inevitable moments of anxiety, frustration or pain that we most need to seek and name the joy as a means of maintaining perspective while helping our Middle Schoolers learn to do the same. Ultimately, there is no greater gift we can give early adolescents than the liberating gift of perspective. And there is no greater purpose for the open, honest and respectful collaboration between parents and educators than helping one another develop and sustain our own long-term perspective for the benefit of children. Educated, enthusiastic and engaged citizens who are intellectually curious, analytical and creative in their thinking; inclusive, empathetic and dedicated to working up to their full potential, not merely for personal gain but for the purpose of making positive, meaningful and lasting contributions to their communities—these are the primary qualities we seek to nurture and reinforce in all Middle School students at Parker.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.