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Fostering Personal Growth at the 6th Grade Level

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Stuart Hall School

Stuart Hall School stands out as a beacon of educational excellence, particularly in our 6th-grade program. With our commitment to maintaining small class sizes, Stuart Hall offers a unique experience that prioritizes both the academic and personal growth of our students. In this article, we will dive deeper into the benefits of our middle school program at Stuart Hall School, specifically addressing how it contributes to building strong student-teacher relationships, encouraging critical thinking, fostering a love of learning, and differentiating the private school experience from public alternatives.


At Stuart Hall School, maintaining a small class size for our 6th grade creates an ideal environment for developing strong student-teacher relationships. In a self-contained classroom, teachers can know their students as whole individuals, not just learners of specific subjects. Our head of school, Mr. Jason Coady, commented on his own child’s experience in Stuart Hall’s 6th grade, explaining that “being in a self-contained class meant her teacher got to know her very well as a whole child, not just a student of one subject. She saw her for who she was and tailored her work to our daughter's strengths, while similarly helping expand her understanding of who she is. We also saw our daughter grow from someone who was afraid to make mistakes to someone who instead saw mistakes as a natural part of learning. What's most important to us, though, is that she now has the self-awareness and self-confidence to embrace new challenges, ask for help, and explore new opportunities in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.” This deep understanding between the student and teacher that Jason Coady describes enables our 6th-grade faculty to tailor their approach to education, emphasizing students' strengths while expanding their understanding of themselves. Consequently, students gain powerful self-confidence and are more willing to express their thoughts and opinions, fostering a positive and inclusive learning environment for everyone involved.


Furthermore, our self-contained model allows teachers to focus on students' unique learning styles and academic needs. Within smaller class sizes, students feel comfortable participating in discussions, asking questions, and sharing ideas, creating a supportive atmosphere conducive to growth and educational exploration. Our wonderful 6th-grade teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Bartley, spoke on how she has mindfully crafted a space where our 6th-grade class is free to be themselves. “I home in on their strengths, areas for growth, and unique learning styles by teaching the students in all subjects, including social-emotional learning and the 16 Habits of Mind.” Frequent and meaningful communication between teachers, students, and families is also facilitated, leading to collaborative partnerships that enhance the overall educational experience. Mrs. Bartley concludes that “the self-contained model for sixth-grade eases students into middle school experience with personalized support and care and fosters a sense of community that sticks with them as they continue their educational journey.”


The benefits of small class sizes extend beyond the realm of student-teacher relationships. Coupled with the practice of Mastery Learning, small classes significantly contribute to academic excellence by encouraging critical thinking and nurturing a genuine love of learning. Middle school parent and STU math and science teacher, Mrs. Amy Hyde, spoke highly of her child Julia’s experience in the 6th-grade class. “Julia began to ask questions, think critically, and more importantly she began to wonder. Stuart Hall provided the environment for Julia to fall in love with 6th grade, but more importantly to fall in love with learning.” In a self-contained classroom, students like Julia, who previously struggled to take risks, find a safe space to be themselves. This sense of belonging enables them to ask questions, think critically, and develop a natural curiosity for the subjects they study. Mrs. Bartley concurs, concluding that “in a smaller class, students feel more comfortable participating in discussions, asking questions, and sharing ideas in a supportive environment.”


Stuart Hall School further offers a meaningful alternative to the often standardized and test-focused education found in many public middle schools. Educators, such as Mrs. Bartley, who transitioned from a public school environment, discovered this difference during her transition to private instruction: “After years of teaching to an end-of-year test, I felt my students' well-being (and mine) was suffering due to the pressure to perform well. I didn't know my students as individuals, and I didn't feel they knew me as a person. I would pass over authentic, project-based learning for fear that students wouldn't learn what I needed for the test. When I moved to Stuart Hall School, I felt rejuvenated and found my passion for teaching again. The focus on the whole child and being part of a culture of being "known and loved" was precisely what I needed. Teaching sixth grade at Stuart Hall School has encouraged me to think creatively as an educator and has provided the freedom to follow the interests and needs of my students.”  Mrs. Amy Hyde and her husband Roy similarly discovered this meaningful difference during Julia’s enrollment: “When Roy and I were looking at educational paths for Julia’s middle school years, we were seeking more than a textbook approach. While academics are necessarily important, we sought somewhere that above all instills a love of learning. We found that at Stuart Hall.” The focus on the whole child and the nurturing of individual well-being truly creates a culture where students, and teachers, are "known and loved."


Finally, our middle school programs are intentionally designed to incorporate project-based learning methods, such as expedition days, the GEM Fair, and numerous other engaging activities. Mrs. Bartley elaborates on this further, explaining the importance of hands-on learning for 6th-grade students: “We begin each morning by passing a ‘talking piece’ in which each student can share something related to a prompt for that day. Student choice is at the forefront of performance tasks. We have the ability to take frequent field trips, including ones for service-learning opportunities in the community, destinations focused on well-being, trips to support what we're learning academically, and ones to provide community-building. Students have opportunities to interact with other grade levels, encouraging a sense of belonging and community. Sixth graders have PE class with the seventh graders, eat lunch with the whole middle school (as well as the teachers), and are given opportunities to attend after-school co-curricular with grades 7-12. Being in the private setting of Stuart Hall School provides a strong community and a climate of caring that can't be found anywhere else.” Whether it involves immersing themselves in local farms or embarking on educational trips to JMU, our primary objective for 6th graders is to foster an educational environment where they can actively explore and interact with the subjects they are studying.


Stuart Hall School's unwavering emphasis on maintaining small class sizes exemplifies our profound dedication to fostering the academic and personal advancement of our 6th-grade class. The advantages stemming from these intimate learning environments are abundantly clear, manifested in the profound student-teacher connections that are forged, the cultivation of essential critical thinking abilities, the nurturing of a genuine passion for learning, and the clear distinction from public school alternatives. With its distinctive approach, Stuart Hall School consistently delivers an educational experience that is truly exceptional, transformative, and unique.

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