Fresh haircuts, crisp uniforms, and new backpacks are what you see on the first day of School each September.Students anticipate the new school year with excitement, unsure of just exactly what adventures lie ahead.

For those in Grades 6 and 9, it is anespecially significant occasion as they bridge to a new school division. Grade6 students leave behind the comfortsof the Lower School that some have known since Junior Kindergarten, andGrade 9 students are about to embarkon their last four years of school before heading off to college.

Parents and students may be nervous as they approach these transitional school years, but they will rest assured when they learn Parker staff is working hard behind the scenes to ensure students are prepared academically, socially, and emotionally for the new challenges that lie ahead. It is during these milestone years that grade level deans, faculty, and staff shape the curriculum to create hooks and handles that connect learning concepts between the grade levels.

At Parker’s Lower School, Grade5 is a year filled with increasedindependence, academic rigor, and responsibilities. To help parents and students transition to MiddleSchool, Parker’s Grade 5 teamof teachers maintains a closepartnership with Grade 6 teachers and administrators—a benefit of which is astudent experience that appropriately challenges them academically and imparts lessons on developing a growth mindset, self-advocacy skills,and teamwork—all important tools forMiddle School life.

As a way for students to learn and practice independence, Parker’s Grade5 teachers encourage them to takeownership of their time. By guiding students through time management and organizational practices, students are challenged to create habits that help them complete their schoolwork. “The more students understand routine, the more independent theycan become,” says Grade 5 teacherTheresa Tran. The teachers work in tandem with students at the beginning of the year to help them build new skills and habits, but the expectation is that by the end of the school year, students are practicing their new habits ontheir own—just like they will in MiddleSchool the following year.

Academically, one of the noteworthyprojects in Grade 5 is theenvironmental play, which serves as a point to check the students’ preparedness for Middle School. Ineach Grade 5 class, students worktogether to write an original theater play about the environment. They handle every aspect of creating the play, from writing the script to casting the actors and creating the sets, props, and technology needed for the production. The project provides the perfect opportunity for students to prove their independence and practice their organizational and leadership skills.

Head of Lower School Dr. Bob Gillingham explains, “It gives us the opportunity to check on the development of certain essential skills. Do they know how to collaborate? Are they accepting responsibility? Do they know how to deal with problems when they occur? Can they step up and take on leadership roles, and can they integrate the writing, acting, technology skills that they have learned over the years at Parker?”

Halfway through the school year, theGrade 5 students begin to get a lookat what the next year has in store for them during “Sneak Peek” day, when the rising Middle School students visit the Linda Vista Campus, paired with aGrade 6 student to shadow for the day.


While students experience a day in thelife at Middle School, the Grade 6 team,Head of Middle School, and Assistant Head of Middle School meet with theGrade 5 team to discuss the currentpromoting class. “We talk about the overall character of the class,” saysGrade 6 Dean Chris McGrath. “We wantto know what they are like socially, because every class has their unique characteristics. We also work with the Lower School team to identify any students that may need extra assistance academically or otherwise. The main goal for us is to anticipate the needs of the incoming class and ensure that we create the best possible experience for every student.”

In the Middle School, the curriculum builds on that of the Lower School and helps students grow academically, explore their personal identity, create a community with their peers, and begin to see how they fit into the globalcommunity—skills they will need whenthey get to the Upper School.

Beginning in Grade 6, each studentbecomes part of an Advisory group, similar to their homeroom classes in Lower School. Advisories meet twice a week to dive into age-appropriate topics including time management, student life, and their grade-level themes of self-awareness, community awareness, and global awareness. Advisors keep a close eye on eachof their advisees—acting as their main point of support and guidance throughout the year.


Reflection and self-discovery are key take aways of Middle School.

As students advance from Grade 6 to 8, they work through the process of understanding themselves, their community, and the world. They learn at each grade level to look back on their work throughout the year to self-report on their struggles, their strengths, and their accomplishments. By going through these exercises, they begin to take ownership of their student careers and strengthen goal-setting skills that they will use throughout their lives.

The Middle School experienceculminates with the Grade 8 Discoverytrips, as students become travelers to other countries, fully immersing themselves in cultures much different from their own. The experience requires students to prove themselves as independent, responsible, culturally competent ambassadors of the School. As the environmental plays did in Lower School, this project serves as a checkpoint to measure the student’s preparedness for the rigors of Upper School.

As students transition to Upper School, the major focus shifts from independence and responsibility to the ability to set and achieve long-term goals. Planning for one’s future is animportant life-long skill that Grade 9Dean Carrie Dilmore works to develop in each member of the freshman class.

Just as the transition from Lower to Middle School began mid-year, so does the transition from Middle to Upper School. During a series of meetings that begin each winter, Carrie and Middle School leadership begin talking withGrade 8 parents and students aboutwhat they can expect in high school. From course selection and student-life activities to choosing and registeringfor classes, Grade 9 is planned before Grade 8 is completed.

“One of the benefits of being a JuniorKindergarten to Grade 12 school isthe planning that can take place,” says Carrie. “Since the Upper School knows the activities the Middle School students experience, we are able to pick up right where the Middle School leaves off. If we know where

our students are in their growth, we can efficiently plan programming that best supports them. High school can be intimidating; our goal is to allow students to try new things in a safe, structured environment.”

At the Upper School, Advisory classes continue, but look slightly different. Rather than a group of fellow classmates, Advisories include students from all grade levels. The experience provides the perfect space for students to step out of their comfort zone and forge new relationships.

Head of Upper School Dr. Monica Gillespie explains that the Advisory program provides students with an environment where they can practice making meaningful connections withthose who are different than them—askill that will prepare them for success in all aspects of their lives.

“One of the things that we know is that when our students leave us, the end of the journey is not going to college. It really is being engaged in the world. One of the critical skills that will allow them to be successful is the ability to form relationships, develop understanding, and communicate effectively across cultures. It is an essential skill for whatever path they choose,” says Monica.

While the breadth of opportunities and class choices allows each Parker student to take a slightly different path through their Upper School years, one thing remains constant: Parker’s teachers, grade level deans, administrators, and student support team work quietly behind the scenes to create opportunities for students to develop and practice important lifelong skills such as independence, collaboration, goal setting, confidence and leadership, so that Parker graduates will have the skills they need to be personally successful, all while knowing they have a community of supporters behind them.

This article was originally featured in the Winter 2019 issue of Parker Magazine. Click here to read the full issue.