From the Head of School
Thank you for your interest in Middlesex! I hope that as you learn about our school and how we approach the education, growth, and development of great people, you will get to talk with our current and former students, teachers, parents, friends, because connection with people and community are at the heart of our enterprise. It is well known in psychological circles that as choice proliferates, it becomes harder, not easier, to make the “right” decision and feel satisfied with it. Choosing an independent residential school certainly is a big decision; as the parent of three Middlesex graduates, I know that these decisions are milestones in family life. I hope that in learning about what sets Middlesex apart, you see the opportunities and possibilities a Middlesex education can hold for you.
The shorthand for Middlesex’s mission is “finding the promise” in our students, and there is no better mission around which students, parents, and teachers can form partnerships. From parents’ perspectives, we tend to focus on our student’s “promise” as the talents, interests, and skills that help a young person find confidence and contribution and manifest themselves later in fulfillment, achievement, and satisfaction in adult life. From a student’s perspective, though, the emphasis is on the “finding” process and the now. In a recent chapel talk, one of our seniors told the School that while our attention is diverted by trying to define the promise in each student, it is really the process of finding that gives the Middlesex experience its lasting power in a person’s life. This student clearly believed that he was divulging state secrets and debunking myths, but we at School have known for a long time that naming or quantifying “the promise” is not nearly as important as success in its finding – in inspiring, motivating, engaging, and creating the curiosity, skills, disciplines, strengths, and aspirations young people need to live great lives. Indeed, this finding is our work on a day-to-day basis, unique to each student but pursued in the larger context of expecting each student to become an engaged contributor, and yes, eventually a leader, in a dynamic, ethical school community. In 2015, we finished our ten-year re-accreditation by the Commission on Independent Schools of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The final report is unreservedly enthusiastic about Middlesex. While we know we will always be working on improvement, the report highlights the positive energy of our students, the professionalism of my colleagues, and the strength of our relationships and our community.
Academic strength is central to our mission and focus. Objective measures of academic success, such as test scores and college admissions, support our confidence in our program; perhaps more importantly, so do the numbers of students seeking more, be it taking extra courses, designing independent studies, or creating clubs to nurture their interests. Young people need to develop sustaining, compelling interests, and our program nurtures that capacity. Strong intellectual inclinations and lively habits of mind create the foundations upon which to build a sophisticated understanding of our increasingly complex world. But critical competence also comes from building relationships, taking risks, solving problems, taking joy in the quest, confronting failure, practicing resilience, celebrating growth, and surmounting challenges around the classroom table, on the fields, on the stage, in the studio. A young person grows in confidence and capacity when she organizes a fundraiser; when he submits a poem and gets published in a journal; when she researches then presents a bill at Model Congress; even, believe it or not, when he learns to ask a teacher for help, finds a lost bag of laundry, confronts a wayward friend, or auditions for a solo in the Holiday Concert.
We believe in positive youth development, a growing body of psychological, developmental, and physiological research that focuses attention on the potential of adolescence rather than on its liabilities; the unique capacities for growth and development at a critical time in personal and physical development; and the benefit of a young person’s being a powerful, positive choice-maker in his or her growth, supported by a strong and supportive community and connected with principled, caring adults. We are a leading school offering mindfulness training for all of our students, and the early data shows that such training increases their sense of well-being, equanimity, and self-control in directing their energy. Learning to do hard things well is an invaluable life skill, and both the structures and practices of our school foster the development of broad and deep personal competence that begets authentic confidence that makes anything possible.
Our iconic and now-retired art history teacher, Malcolm Russell, once offered a description of Middlesex that I regard as the school I hope we are and can be. He wrote:
We believe that learning to live in a small, intimate, and transparently honest community best fosters the development of an ethical person, a person who will view the opportunities gained from an elite education as opportunities to benefit larger communities and, with time, the world at large. Thus our goal of finding the promise in each student envisions the fulfilled student becoming a full citizen of the world.
Even while we focus on the day-to-day teenage work of learning and growing, we orient our students towards the well-being of the community and their responsibility for it. Leadership and citizenship are not just ideals; they are fundamental responsibilities of members of our community, just as they are the price adults pay for living in a democratic society. This is the most important training for the “real world” an adolescent can get — that his or her voice matters; that with opportunity and independence comes responsibility to others; and that it is all of our responsibility to care, to engage, and to contribute as full citizens of the world.
As a parent and an educator, these are my answers to the question: Why Middlesex? I hope you will visit us and see for yourself.
—Kathleen Carroll Giles
Head of School