Celebrating the Preschool to Eighth Grade Years

By Kathleen Smith, Assistant Head of School

I write this having just spent the day with our spirited and talented seventh-7th Supreme Courtgrade class, five of the most dedicated and inspiring colleagues anyone could ask for… oh, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. After a morning spent touring the U.S. Capitol, our social studies field trip group moved on to the Supreme Court where we were treated, thanks to a Langley parent who had clerked for Justice Kennedy, to a private half-hour session with the justice and one of his clerks in the Lawyers’ Lounge of the land’s highest court.

While we know Justice Kennedy to be a powerful Constitutional scholar and leader, we were all struck by his engaging manner with our middle school-aged students. He was remarkable, and the students (and faculty!) left the meeting a bit star-struck and ready to review our copies of the Constitution when we arrived home, per his suggestion.

A field trip like this certainly makes me, a native of Boston, feel lucky to live and teach in the metro-D.C. area. What I thought about on the bus ride back to school, however, was how lucky I am to teach middle school in a preschool to eighth grade school. In a K-12 school, it would certainly not be the seventh-graders who were chosen for a plum opportunity like this. Private audiences with Supreme Court justices would be reserved for the upper school Student Council or the AP U.S. history class.

Middle school students at Langley, as we know well, are our leaders. They are the ones to whom younger students look for inspiration and mentorship. We look to our middle schoolers to represent us internationally in Costa Rica or locally by volunteering at So Others Might Eat (SOME), and we are never disappointed. We are proud when they leave the Langley nest and live our shared values in their new high school communities.

Recent studies out of Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Duke universities have borne out what Langley parents have known for decades. PK-8 schools provide an approach that both meets the unique developmental needs of their students and provides for superior academic achievement, particularly for those in their middle school years. While these studies largely investigated public middle school settings, they provide research that supports what I regularly posit to anyone who will listen: this is the best model for kids, period.

We know that in K-12 schools, resources and attention are disproportionately given to upper school programs. How lucky we are, as teachers and students at Langley, to work and learn in an environment that celebrates the unique developmental stage that occurs during the middle school years, rather than one that makes students wait until they reach the capstone high school years to discover their passions, to have authentic leadership opportunities, to stretch themselves academically.

As Justice Kennedy told our seventh-graders, they will inherit this democracy very soon, and they have a responsibility to understand what that entails. I am confident that our students will understand and be equipped to take on that mantle in myriad ways. And they will be able to do so thanks in large part to the opportunities they were afforded during their formative years, the preschool to eighth grade years at The Langley School.

Off to a Great Start!

By Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of SchoolElinor-Scully-spring-2010

One of the many perks of being the new head of The Langley School is the unbelievably warm welcome I have received from all of the consitutencies of this great community. I have had such fun experiencing the rituals of a new school year alongside all those who are new to the community. There are many highlights of the first month of school, but here are a few particularly memorable ones that I will draw upon in the months ahead.

I was at the airport in early September to bid farewell to our eighth-graders as they began the journey to Costa Rica and Earth University. As their blog posts attested, the experience was life changing for many who ventured out of the United States for the first time. Their exposure to principles of environmental sustainability and stewardship, biodiversity, and cross-cultural communication clearly will influence them well beyond their time in Costa Rica. Many of the students continue to develop their own personal leadership plans as part of their return to Langley. Poised and articulate, these eighth-graders demonstrate on a daily basis why this trip is a fitting capstone to the Langley experience.

While the eighth-graders were in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to substitute for a sixth-grade science class. These budding scientists built towers out of spaghetti, string, tape, and marshmallows. Despite having an inexperienced science substitute like me, the students managed to build towers that were several feet high without incurring any injuries! Their innovative approach to the project was most impressive, though I am not sure I will be called upon to substitute again soon.

The Primary School students have invited me into their circle time, to read to them, and to attend a music class. One of the great joys of being at Langley is seeing for the first time how much learning takes place in these foundational early years. I have been moved by the joy and optimism our youngest students bring to school every single day.

And finally, thanks to our dedicated fourth-grade Langley school store cashiers, I am in possession of some awesome Langley swag. I have a new sweatshirt, hat, t-shirt, coffee mug, and Langley Spoonfuls cookbook! Like everyone I have encountered in these first weeks of school, they have ensured that I feel part of the school community. Thanks to everyone who has extended this kindness to me and to all of the new members of our community. I couldn’t wish for a better start to the school year!