In sixth grade, students are in the center of Middle School life and cued up to engage with everything Gordon’s oldest grades have to offer them. Even as their social lives and classroom work intensify, sixth graders begin to look beyond their day-to-day lives to see the tangible impact that their actions can have on the rest of the school —and on the world beyond Gordon.
As a yearlong service project, the sixth grade manages the schoolwide recycling program, collecting material from classrooms and offices every week, sorting it for processing, and advocating for correct use of recycling bins. When they begin this work, students experience it in the context of their work on ecology and sustainability. As the year progresses, they quickly come to realize that this is more than just a hands-on lesson; the school's buildings and grounds crew genuinely depends on them to do this work, and if one student can't complete their weekly rounds, one of their classmates will have to step up.
That's just one example from a year that offers dozens of ways to make connections between academic disciplines, and between the classroom and the world beyond. Reading selections like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind bring issues of sustainability into conversations about literature, and the story comes alive when students work together to imagine and then build technological solutions to real world problems in science class. The study of poetry feeds students’ responses to fine art through a unit co-created with the RISD Museum that led to Gordon student work being exhibited in Washington DC. Spanish readings generate conversations about the economic relationship between the US and Central America, drawing on a long-running collaboration between Gordon and Equal Exchange. The high level of curriculum integration at the sixth grade level provides students with numerous opportunities to connect their year-long studies in across all subjects.
There are new on and off-campus connections in extracurricular opportunities, as well. League age requirements allow sixth grade athletes to participate fully in all of Gordon’s sports offerings. Sixth graders can audition for Gordon's a cappella group, which is invited to perform at area venues throughout the year. And they are finally eligible to participate in Gordon's competitive robotics team. Every sixth grader participates in an in-school First Lego League robotics competition. This hands-on STEM experience allows all students to hone their critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity in the robotics lab before they have the opportunity to take on other schools as competitors on the seventh and eighth grade robotics team.
Having settled into the role of middle schoolers, sixth graders have a solid understanding of the routines of school and continue to gain skills and practice strategies that help them balance their academic work and extracurricular activities. At the same time that sixth graders are asked to reflect on their increasing rights and responsibilities, Gordon keeps its commitment to let children remain children in valuable ways all the way through eighth grade. As students move through Middle School, students continue to pass three year olds in the halls and often greet each other by name. Recesses still happen twice a day, sledding continues on the playground, student cell phone use is still not allowed, and relationships with teachers remain warm and playful.