Middle School Overview

The Middle School thrives with Calhoun’s joyful spirit. Take a tour of the Middle School and you'll find mathematicians tackling algebraic puzzles; anthropologists re-creating ancient Egyptian tombs and medieval Islamic Suq markets; scientists create catapults, students analyzing issues of race, identity and social justice through literature, history and art; and writers publishing their own literary magazine. Their work is investigative, collaborative and meaningful, and by doing it they learn more about themselves and their role as members of a larger community.

The interdisciplinary curriculum engages pre-adolescent and adolescent students in an examination of this connection between the self and society. In seventh grade, for example, the study of geographical and cultural history and the study of DNA are made more meaningful by rich co-curricular connections. Eighth graders culminate their study of Mandarin and Spanish by excursions abroad--to China, Peru, Cuba or Spain. Course work is multicultural, project-oriented, and designed to stretch students’ thinking from the concrete to the abstract.

We attend to the developmental needs specific to each student by addressing and supporting the need for good organization, routine study skills, responsibility for one's work and mature social behavior. Every student has an individual, weekly conference with a faculty advisor, to discuss topics as diverse as course work, study habits and relevant social issues. 

While building upon the exciting, solid foundation of the Lower School, Calhoun's Middle School continues to engage and ignite curiosity.  Students are guided toward independence as they develop their own distinct voices, taking ownership of who they are as individual thinkers while celebrating the diversity within the Calhoun community. 

Students' interests guide each teachers' unique approach to content development, which is infused with Interdisciplinary studies, current events and project-based learning. Teachers are also encouraged to let their own passions play a part in their planning, making the Middle School at Calhoun an exciting place to learn and grow. 

You're welcome to explore examples of how our students are Learning by Doing;  take a look at our Arts program, with videos of recent student performances; and visit News Mashup to find out the latest happenings at Calhoun. We also encourage you to take a day and visit us!

Program FAQs

Academic Requirements

Students are required to take a comprehensive academic program. In addition to the core curriculum, Middle School students begin formalized study of a Modern Language (Mandarin and Spanish). Computer classes introduce students to more advanced skills, and the arts continue to be an integral part of the program. 
Homework goes beyond reinforcement of basic skills to expectations of research, long-range planning and independent work. The demanding three-year course of study exposes students to a broad knowledge base and readies them for the scholastic commitments expected in the Upper School.

Advisory and Cluster System

Every Middle School student has a “Cluster Advisor” – a Middle School teacher who acts as that child’s mentor, advisor and confidante throughout the year. While sixth graders are assigned to a cluster advisor, seventh and eighth graders are involved in selecting the teacher with whom they would like to be paired.

The Cluster Advisor is the liaison between the child, the child’s parents, and the school. Each student meets with his/her cluster advisor privately, once each week. Parents have individual conferences with the advisor at least twice a year and more often if requested by either the school or parents.

Each student is part of a “cluster,” which is made up of the mix of students – sixth through eighth graders – assigned to a particular cluster advisor. The mixed-age groups contribute to the sense of community in the Middle School, and serve to ease the transition from home to school, and back again. The school day begins and ends with cluster. In the morning, it is a time for announcements. In the afternoon, cluster is a “check-in” time, and advisors help students organize materials needed for homework. Cluster is also a time for announcements, taking attendance, and socializing.

Classroom Structure

Middle School classes are small and discussion-based, with 12-16 students per teacher. This allows teachers to engage students in a dynamic learning process of interdisciplinary, project-oriented curricula that encourages students to be inquisitive, critical thinkers. The open classroom creates a learning environment that promotes excitement and intellectual stimulation while reinforcing students’ abilities to remain attentive and focused.

Subject areas in Middle School are more departmentalized as compared to Lower School. However, the day is still structured to ease the students toward the organization and individual responsibility that they will need in the later Middle School and Upper School years.

Assessing Student Progress

Assessment at Calhoun is not an end goal. It is part of the deep relationship between students and teachers. Our teachers observe Middle School students as they explore, discover, create, imagine, build, solve problems, relate to peers and demonstrate their learning. These observations form the basis of their assessments. Teachers can then use this continual process of assessing to create personalized experiences tailored to the next learning need of each child.

Our assessment model is ongoing, formative and engages our students. Our goal is to structure an ongoing dialogue about each student's process and learning goals that centers around the working relationship between student and teacher and that includes the student's family at the appropriate developmental junctures.

Students from the youngest grades up through senior year regularly engage in self-assessments facilitated by their classroom teachers, cluster advisor or grade dean. The goal of self-assessment is for the student to critically reflect on their learning process and be an active participant in setting the next set of academic or extra-curricular goals and the strategies for reaching those goals.

Reports & Conferences

Calhoun encourages a partnership between parents, students and teachers. Every school year includes at least three personal conferences, the first of which takes place before the school year begins. Families and advisors continue to communicate by telephone, email or in person throughout the year.

Comprehensive narrative assessments are sent to families twice a year, which provide detailed descriptions of the child's cognitive, social and emotional growth. Families receive a vivid and clear understanding of how their children are learning.

Excursions--Domestic and Abroad

Students in every Middle School grade participate in one overnight trip each year:

  • Outdoor Education (6th grade) — Sixth graders participate in overnight outdoor education experiences to explore science and social themes, serve as an opportunity for personal growth and allow students time to participate in concentrated cooperative learning and community-building activities. Destinations may include Black Rock Forest Preserve, Mystic Seaport and Clearpool Education Center.
  • Washington DC (7th grade) — Seventh graders take a three-day trip to Washington, visiting sites connected to the literature and history curriculum on American history and government.
  • Boston (8th grade) — Eighth grade students take a three-day trip to Boston, culminating their study of early American history.
  • Excursions Abroad, to China and Spanish-speaking countries (8th grade; optional) — Groups of eighth grade language students are invited to participate in Calhoun's international travel program, which takes place after the last day of school.  Students studying Mandarin go on 10-day trips to China, and those studying Spanish have already traveled to Peru and Cuba. [Global trips are not included in tuition; financial aid is available for those already qualified.]

Community Service Learning

The Community Service Learning Program is a key component of the Calhoun curriculum, with grade-level, division or all-school programming a valued part of school life. The adults in the community—parents, faculty and administrators—are active participants in these endeavors, as well.

Trimester & 6-Day Rotation Schedule

The Middle School program is structured on a six-day rotation schedule within a trimester system. 

The TRIMESTER system is the foundation for a well-rounded, challenging program in all of the academic disciplines (including the arts) while encouraging "student voice and choice"--the opportunity for students to experiment, explore, and follow their individual passions through academic electives as well as club and leadership opportunities. Sixth graders have a choice of selecting choral or instrumental music and may elect to add Spanish as a second language to the required Mandarin course of study. By seventh and eighth grade, students can choose three additional electives for each of the three terms, selected from among as many as 35 special courses. [See the MS Course List for required and elective classes, and Co-Curricular Programs, and Athletics for the season list of intramural and interscholastic sports teams.]  

The SIX-DAY ROTATION means that class meetings are not linked to the days of the week, but rotate through days one through six. The reason for this structure is to avoid missing the same classes every time a Monday holiday occurs.

Danny Isquith
Middle School Director

Main Building 3rd - 12th Grades 433 West End Avenue New York, NY 10024 212.497.6500

Robert L. Beir Lower School Building 2.8 Years - 2nd Grade 160 West 74th Street New York, NY 10023 212.497.6550

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