Loving Their Middle School, Preparing for High School: St. Paul Lutheran School
Most people say that sixth, seventh, and eighth grades were the worst years of their school career. The combination of increased academic expectations, bewildering hormonal changes, and new social quagmires to navigate can produce a toxic environment for students and teachers alike.
That is certainly NOT the case at St. Paul Lutheran School.
I have been fortunate to tour the school and meet with teachers and administrators two times. I came away with nothing but complete admiration for the school and staff. Rarely have I seen a school that is so focused on their students. (I mean, the Early Childhood teachers make home visits to help new students get comfortable with them!) The curriculum is designed to stimulate a child’s brain and encourage exploration and experimentation, while giving the opportunity to grow in faith through weekly chapel services that are reinforced by daily instruction in the classrooms.
I returned to St. Paul to learn more about their middle school. Talking with Principal Scott Browning and eighth-grade teacher Julie Norris, I realize that I’ve found two of the school’s biggest cheerleaders. Julie has not only been a teacher at St. Paul for 20 years, she is the parent of St. Paul alumni who went to Paschal High School after finishing eighth grade.
“St. Paul doesn’t have the scale of a big school,” says Julie, “but it has exposure to so much. And it’s safe. The kids have the space to learn about themselves.” Because they learn about themselves, both teacher and principal believe the students who go into big public high schools are well-equipped to succeed. They have been exposed to all aspects of schooling: academic, artistic, and athletic. They have an emotional, faith-based foundation from which to build, and they quickly find like-minded friends.
While emphasis is naturally placed on success, a child who goes from strength to strength and achievement to achievement without ever failing in school is completely unprepared to fail in adult life. Principal Browning says that “we’re a great place to learn to fail and be loved on.” Julie agrees. “There is a freedom to fail, and that’s really important.” Humans don’t learn through success; we learn through failure and experimentation and repetition. Having a safe place to try and fail leads to more well-adjusted, more resilient children.
Once again, I was remarkably impressed with St. Paul. But I wanted the real scoop. Accordingly, I met with two students to find out what middle school is really like at St. Paul.
Luci Rotman is a seventh grader, and Ryan Rattan is an eighth grader. If anyone would tell me what middle school is like at St. Paul, I thought, they would be the ones to tell me.
Luci plays the cello. She said she started playing in fourth grade at St. Paul and now plays with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra with an eye to possibly playing professionally. She plays volleyball. She loves science and is looking forward to Advanced Honors Science next year, in which she will be exposed to the sciences she will encounter in high school – biology, chemistry, and physics. Most students at St. Paul are similarly well-rounded, playing a variety of sports and engaging in artistic and academic extracurricular activities.
Luci arrived at our interview a little out of breath. She was coming from her literature class which was on a field trip. When I asked where they had gone, she told me they were in the Bride’s Room in the church. Her teacher likes to keep her classes interested by taking them to locations all around the campus for class.
Ryan is another well-rounded St. Paul student. He plays basketball, baseball, golf, runs track, participates in mathematics and public speaking competitions, and does theater. He has been at St. Paul since kindergarten, and it is extremely obvious that he loves his school.
Both Luci and Ryan talked about Coffee House, a program for middle schoolers which allows students to talk about issues facing them, academically, socially, and spiritually, with TCU students in the context of their faith. Neither Luci nor Ryan are Lutheran; Luci’s family attends Christ Chapel, while Ryan’s family goes to University Christian Church. Ryan said St. Paul is open and welcoming to all. “I like listening to other people’s opinions [about religion], and they listen to mine.”
Next year, Ryan is off to Paschal. He’s ready to get involved in the theater program and feels that St. Paul has prepared him academically and emotionally for a big high school. Luci will be going to Benbrook High School in 2020. She’s excited about their music program, and like Ryan, she feels no qualms about going to a public high school.
These students know themselves. They are comfortable in their own skins, and part of that is due to their time at St. Paul. What was most obvious, more so than their poise and intelligence, is their love for their school. They both wanted me to understand how special St. Paul is, how much they have gained from their time there. Luci, in particular, was eager to have me understand her feelings.
“I just love it!”