Our approach to middle school: A time to become more deeply rooted in faith, to experience tremendous growth in academics, and for leaders to be born. These attributes are unique to our Catholic schools by design. Choosing Catholic education for the middle school years has many benefits that are hard to come by elsewhere.
Let’s start with the most important – an education that incorporates an encounter with Jesus Christ into each and every school day. Students have the opportunity to grow in their friendship with Jesus and to prepare for and receive the sacrament of confirmation. Research shows Catholic school students are 7-8 times more likely to attend Sunday Mass and 3-6 times as likely to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
Our positive teacher-student relationships are another benefit. Our middle school students have the same content-area teachers for three years in a row. This is called looping, an instructional strategy where teachers follow students through more than one grade. This practice consistently results in greater growth in student performance.
These close relationships eliminate the typical learning curve that takes place every time a student has a new teacher or class. Students, teachers, and parents all benefit from this. Because the teachers know students and their families so well, students learn in an environment that’s built on trust, teachers maintain high expectations, and families are involved. Our academic data shows a strong surge in success in the middle school years. Furthermore, research on the “Catholic School Effect” shows that students in Catholic schools demonstrate higher academic achievement than peers with a similar background in public schools.
In addition to strong ties with teachers, our middle school students are rooted in school communities that include younger peers, all the way down to preschool. Time and again, we witness our middle school students rise to the occasion and become leaders when given the opportunity to set the example for the younger students who look up to them.
Our middle schoolers serve their younger peers as reading partners, Mass buddies, tutors, and more. These roles let them see themselves as leaders in the school community. Experience shows that in standalone middle school buildings where students are surrounded by only other adolescent students, we see many more instances of the same socially risky behaviors that are often present in high school. Most middle school students do not have the emotional maturity to navigate this exposure successfully. Our approach is to guide students through the opportunity to be role models rooted in Catholic teaching - preparing them to be Christian witnesses to the world.
Faith, the acceleration of academic achievement, learning how to be a leader rather than a follower – all of these characteristics are integral to Catholic education in middle school.
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Catholic schools in the Diocese of Grand Rapids are an alliance of 31 vibrant learning communities (26 elementary and five high schools) serving more than 6,000 preschool through 12th grade students throughout West Michigan. Our schools inspire young people to grow in Catholic faith and grace, achieve more in school and life, develop creativity and character, and feel welcomed and cherished for their unique gifts. We partner with parents to awaken the whole child to a world of light and life — that grows better and brighter when children reach their potential.
Pictured: A spring 2019 file photo from St. John Vianney Catholic School.