Making new friends, exploring new interests, finding yourself, or maybe seeing yourself in a new way – these are all parts of being a typical middle schooler.

Middle school is a time of transition, and although it can be extremely scary, realizing it is basically like cracking open a window to the future, it can also be exciting and full of possibilities; it is an integral moment in a student’s life and education. For this reason, PA Distance staff and administration have taken great care to reinvent our middle school program in order to foster the growth and imaginations of our middle school students.

In previous years, middle grade levels have worked within themselves to create unique learning opportunities for their students. As a 7th grade teacher for the last eight years, I have seen and been a part of some amazing team efforts that have benefited our 7th grade students. Likewise, I have watched other grade level teachers accomplish the same with their students.

What we have missed, however, is the opportunity to combine our approaches, to promote more collaboration among students, and to allow them to really get to know one another across grade levels. At PA Distance, we now officially recognize middle school as being grades 6, 7, and 8. This means all grade level teachers will work together to create new social and academic opportunities across grade levels.

Aside from participating in their grade level courses and rigor, students will also be able to be a part of clubs, assemblies, contests and competitions that will span across the entire middle school. We are eager to kick off a school year that will include students voting on grade level colors and themes to use throughout the year, positive behavior tracking, student council, foreign language elective opportunities, and other club options that will be decided as per student request.

Other ways we are reinventing middle school to better suit the needs of our students are to integrate homeroom sessions each week, and expand the amount of time students are attending live learning sessions. The changes are being made so the students have more access to the teachers and more time to learn from one another. We are hopeful that by increasing the amount of time students are online live, students will feel more connected to and supported by the teachers.

As a teacher, this is something I am most excited about. When learning online, it’s easy to feel alone even though, in reality, our students are far from it. The more visible and available we can be, the more of a community we will build, and the more successful our students can be. We already know how creative and effective our individual grade levels can be. Now, we are thrilled to discover how much more creative and effective we can be when we all work together.

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