Middle School to Mark 30th Anniversary
This December will mark 30 years since the Middle School welcomed its first students to their own dedicated classrooms on the Linda Vista Campus. In each grade, there were only about 50 students.
“I remember the classrooms smelling brand new—the paint, the carpets. It felt really special,” said Gretchen (Hanscom) Taylor ʼ92, now a Middle School English teacher, then a Grade 7 student.
She participated in the groundbreaking for the Middle School that took place on April 4, 1986. The outline of a schoolhouse was drawn in the dirt at the edge of the canyon and one by one, more than 150 students in Grades 5 to 7 laid ceremonial bricks atop the outlined shape. Over the next eight months, their new Middle School was built on that site.
Former Middle School Head Sharon Carroll recalls the excitement leading up to the opening.
“The teachers who would be the faculty at the new Middle School participated in an intensive retreat the spring before the opening, exploring fresh approaches, tactics and strategies to create an effective school program that would be as energetic as the Middle School students themselves,” she said.
Construction progressed quickly through the summer, but not fast enough to welcome students on the first day of school. Temporary arrangements were made: Grade 6 students were bused to the Lower School, while students in Grades 7 and 8 were given classrooms in the Upper School.
Finally, the big day arrived. It was a misty morning on Dec. 15, 1986, when students launched brown and gold balloons to celebrate Opening Day.
That year, the Middle School yearbook was titled “Beginnings” and the opening was recorded this way:
“As with any beginning, the air was filled with expectation, excitement and a sense of hope. Songs and cheers echoed in Mission Valley below…Faculty, administrators, parents and friends delighted in the students’ enthusiasm…
“At the balloon launch…200 pairs of eyes lifted to the gray sky as the balloons announced a very exciting beginning.”
Today, the Middle School occupies the center canyon rim of the Linda Vista Campus. The combined enrollment of Grades 6, 7 and 8 is a healthy 312 students, and the evolution of the Middle School continues.
Dan Lang joined the Parker faculty in 2006 and became Head of the Middle School in 2012. During his time at Parker, he has seen many upgrades to the campus. He recalled a particularly busy period between 2007-2009 when the Linda Vista Campus was undergoing major renovation.
“The students were able to have some fun as the contractors worked—peeking through the cutouts in the plywood enclosure to watch six new Middle School classrooms take shape and roller skating on the large concrete panels before they were tilted into place to become the Visual Arts building and Lawrence Middle School Commons,” he said.
Even as the campus facilities have changed, the Middle School’s values have not. Mr. Lang says his faculty today continues to embrace the vision of the Middle School founders who sought to create a learning environment that meets each student at his or her unique moment of development.
“Our newest faculty members are talented teachers and content experts. They’re spunky and hardworking, and they love to work with what most would agree is the most fun and perhaps most unpredictable age group,” he said.
Christi Cole ʼ86, Assistant Head of the Middle School, was an Upper School student at Parker for three years before the Middle School opened. She returned as a math teacher in 1992 and taught all 100 students in Grade 7. Since that time, more teachers have been hired to create smaller class sizes, but the Middle School enrolls only a dozen more students than when Ms. Cole was hired.
While the Middle School remains a small community, the educational program has expanded to include many opportunities for enrichment.
“The greatest change has been developing a schedule to create equal time for arts, music and athletics, emphasizing our mission and building a stronger overall program,” Ms. Cole said.
“We’ve also worked hard to develop a global focus. Discovery Week began before I arrived at Parker with a trip to Ensenada for about 30 eighth graders and has now become an integral part of the curriculum, including a global travel experience for all students in eighth grade,” she said.
The ideals of educating for character and learning by doing were central to the educational philosophy of our School’s namesake, Col. Francis W. Parker. Those principles remain at the core of the Middle School program.
Each student belongs to a small advisory group where lessons focus on the values of community, collaboration and global citizenship. The curriculum for each grade has a different emphasis—self-awareness in Grade 6, community awareness in Grade 7 and global awareness in Grade 8.
The advisory program aims to help students acquire these levels of awareness so they will develop integrity, responsibility and self-discipline. For Ms. Cole, helping students build strength of character sums up what the Middle School and Parker strive to instill in each child.
“My favorite memory was a World Language Week competition where my advisory had built a pretty sad chariot that we were supposed to race around the field. It fell apart in the first few feet, but the kids picked it up and carried it,” she said. “I feel like that epitomized what I want students to get out of their education at Parker—resilience, thoughtfulness, courage and teamwork.”
Over the past 30 years, the Middle School has helped thousands of students transition from the Lower School prepared to meet the challenges of the Upper School.
Mr. Lang summed it up this way:
“With all that has changed, from buildings to schedules to the people, the constant has been the Parker family, as we are fond of calling ourselves. Parents, students, faculty and administration all work in partnership to create an environment where students can grow toward making a meaningful difference in the world.”