Empowering Ethical Kids

The Middle School years are exciting – and challenging. It’s a brave new world for adolescents, and Westtown offers a series of special programs that help them navigate self-image, peer group and friendship issues.

We believe well-rounded education includes more than excellent academics. Values can be learned, too, and young people need a safe environment where they can practice them. Building on their own innate enthusiasm and keen sense of justice, we help them acquire the skills they need to become ethical young adults. Here are some of the ways:

In Quakerism, a leader is known as a “clerk.” At Westtown, leadership isn’t a popularity contest; student clerks are discerned within the Middle School community. All students who want to develop their leadership skills are welcome to join the Student Clerks and help shape Middle School activities – from service and fundraising events to writing queries and greeting for our weekly Meeting for Worship.

We believe there are many kinds of leadership that will benefit our world, and so we consciously nurture both the charismatic extroverted leader and the quiet consensus builder.

Remember what lunch was like when you were in middle school? For some adults, it was a painful experience: Who do I sit with? What if they won’t let me sit there? What if they laugh at me?And now imagine middle school students dining in a formal setting with N.C. Wyeth’s magical painting, The Giant, as a backdrop. Tables seat an assigned mix of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, plus a faculty member. Crews of students serve the food, take care of cleanup and reset the tables afterward.

Conversations are polite – and sometimes scintillating. Food is served family style, with a salad bar and vegetarian selections as options, and as part of the Farm to School movement, much of Westtown’s food comes from local providers. In this setting, meals nourish the spirit as well as the body.

Visitors are frequently amazed that lunchtime for middle schoolers can be this civilized. And parents often cite the lunch program with its informal interactions between students and teachers as one of the things they value most about Westtown.

And the inclusiveness, acceptance, and sense of community so evident in the dining room are also present throughout the Middle School. No one is left out, and students are always encouraged to share their opinions.

Middle School students serve tables, clean up, and clean up spaces in the Middle School as part of the school’s organized Work Program, in which every child rotates through jobs such as serve, set, wash, and janitorial. Work Program began out of necessity during WWII when labor was scarce, but it quickly became an important part of a Westtown education.Work Program reaffirms the goodness of service to others and the dignity of all work, in accordance with Quaker values. It also offers middle schoolers opportunities for leadership: older students can become Work Captains, supervising a work rotation as they gain valuable skills in working with others.

SPARK! – Spirit, Participation, Academic Excellence, Respect, and Kindness – is Westtown’s teacher-developed social curriculum. Middle Schoolers SPARK each other, for example, as they recognize other students on the SPARK board in the lobby for specific actions that embody SPARKiness.Students explore these same themes all year long as part of competitive Spirit games, while queries help them focus: Have I done my best? Have I been kind? Have I taken a risk?

In Middle School, service is a three-year program that’s woven into the curriculum and honors the emerging empathy of this age group, as well as their ability to connect to and organize their service work.Some examples of service opportunities: Middle School Student Clerks – our student leaders – organize events and fundraisers to meet local, national, and international needs. Drives for the local Food Cupboard, Spirit Dayz (where proceeds go to help people affected by natural disasters), and a Drop in the Bucket campaign for drilling water wells in East Africa are just a few of the activities this group has coordinated. Each grade also engages in annual service learning such as:

6th Grade: Service on Westtown’s Campus allows students to support others in our community and care for the school’s 600-acre campus.

  • Fall: Gleaning produce from the campus farm for the Chester County Food Bank; Spanish lunch and a holiday cookie party for Westtown staff members
  • Spring: Eight-week long project in Science and Social Studies that uses Design Thinking to address issues of climate change on the Westtown campus

7th Grade: Service in the Local  Community helps students to care for and give to others in our local community – and recognize that they’re a part of it.

  • All year: Think, Care, Act projects begin in advisories where students identify their strengths, affinities, interests, and talents. Next, we focus on what they care about in the community and the world around us. In our third step, we try to connect the first two pieces into a service project that helps others by putting passions and skills to good use. Finally, students present their projects to parents, teachers, sixth graders, and classmates at our Think, Care, Act Fair

8th Grade: Service in the Greater and Global Communities helps students look beyond themselves to the broader, global community.

  • All Year: Building on the 7th grade Think, Care, Act projects, 8th graders complete 20 hours of work on individual projects and write reflections on their experiences; developing a pen pal relationship with students at Westtown’s sister school, Heritage Academy in Ghana.

Recess at Westtown doesn’t end in Lower School; it’s an important break for Middle School students as well. In fact, because movement and play are so important, Middle Schoolers enjoy two recesses a day. They enjoy a freshly-baked snack and break into groups for bench ball (a game invented by students), four square, a quick round of soccer or hoops, a song accompanied by ukulele, or simply a talk together.

The after-school Moose Tracks program affords kids time to  do homework and play. It’s “one hour of fun, one hour of work.” Learn more here.