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Curriculum Insights • The Roles of Parents, Students, and Middle Schools

Lisa Busby, Senior Strategy Advisor

We conclude our series on the middle school process by diving into the distinct roles that parents, students, and middle schools play. With 10 year-olds at the center of this process, we must remember that the adults (PBS adults, parents, and middle schools) share the responsibility of creating a calm environment in which children can feel confident and excited about many different middle school journeys, whether these schools are independent, public, or out-of-area.

In addition to creating a sense of calm at home, parents have the distinct responsibility to drive and organize the details of the process for their children. Public and independent schools have events, timelines, and required steps for each family. PBS offers guidance about how to approach each step and meet all key dates from September through January, but the parents are the ones who must schedule each item and submit the materials requested by each school before the stated deadlines. Here are some of the main responsibilities of 4th and 5th-grade parents:

  • Attend the kick-off event for the middle school process in the spring of 4th grade
  • Meet individually with Lisa Busby in the last two months of 4th grade
  • Complete the PBS parent questionnaire before the last day of 4th grade
  • Research the schools and create a starting list of schools that you will share with Lisa in August prior to the beginning of 5th grade
  • Schedule open house visits and tours when schools open up their events for signups in late August: Each event will deepen your understanding of a school community and program.
  • Read Lisa’s communications and reminders throughout the fall
  • Meet with Lisa as needed to check in about your list, your perceptions of schools, and your child
  • Complete parent applications to independent school programs
  • Help your children navigate their unique steps of the process, which are described below
  • Review PBS’s web page with data and information on middle school matriculation

For most 5th grade students, this is their first time visiting other schools as a prospective community member, not to mention writing and talking about themselves for people they don’t know. Thankfully, their responsibilities are mostly age-appropriate and, when paced evenly throughout the fall, not cumbersome to manage. Most middle schools ask 5th graders to:

  • Visit schools, both virtually and in-person, for general tours and to get to know the communities: PBS teachers and administrators remind students to “be their best selves” on these visits by staying present and focused, paying attention to what they see and hear, and showing respect for the people running each session.
  • Complete applications, most of which ask for long and short essays with kid-friendly prompts about each 5th grader’s natural interests: Schools explicitly ask that children write these essays without assistance from adults. PBS encourages parents to copy-edit their writing before submission.
  • Attend interview sessions at schools: Depending on the school, these could take place 1:1 or in a small group of other prospective students. 1:1 interviews are friendly, kid-appropriate, and invite 5th graders to talk about their life (“What do you like to do in your free time?”) or how they see the world (“What world problem would you like to fix if you could and why?”). Small group sessions ask students to work on a fun project together so a teacher from that school can observe how the children interact and tackle a challenge together.

The primary goal of each middle school – public and independent – is to help prospective families get to know their community and programs. All schools offer virtual and in-person programming to facilitate this. For independent schools, the second goal is to get to know 5th graders as much as they can through age-appropriate steps. The tours and Zoom sessions they host are thoughtfully and creatively designed. Similarly, the applications and interviews are intended to make students feel comfortable sharing their insights about topics they care about. Some highlights of their admission programs include:

  • Virtual and in-person Open Houses
  • Special optional events to focus on topics like DEI, sports, learning support, and tuition assistance
  • 1:1 or small group interview sessions run mostly by middle school teachers
  • Parent interviews (offered by a handful of schools)
  • An open invitation to public events such as plays and athletic games
  • Engaged admission office staff that are available to answer questions from September through January

We hope you enjoyed learning more about the middle school process over the last three weeks. To conclude this series, we will host a virtual parent education session at 8:00 p.m. this evening led by Lisa Busby: Add to Calendar and Join on Zoom. Lisa will moderate a panel discussion with community members who have experience with this important process:

  • Asawari Agrawal: PBS parent of an alum and two current students
  • Meeta Gaitonde: Director of Admission and parent of two PBS alumni
  • Jackie Haas: 5th-grade teacher
  • Max Hong: PBS parent of an alum and one current student
  • Phoebe Mauricio: 4th-grade teacher and parent of two PBS alumni

Thank you for your interest in learning more about the middle school application process!

Lisa Busby and Scott Erickson
Senior Strategy Advisor and Head of School

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