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Do you remember middle school?

The school landscape transforms into a social battleground. Stereotypes emerge. You are either cool or not cool. Striving for peer acceptance leads you to become consumed by peer pressure and self-consciousness.

How can you belong? Your mind is constantly battling with the challenge to fit in. The rules of how to feel good about oneself depend on whom you hang out with. It is an intense period of defining your identity in relation to your peers. Social pressures blur the lines between right and wrong.

All the while, there are your classes and the pressures to achieve the grades that everyone expects of you. You want to be active in class. Yet it’s hard to focus on academics when you feel alone, afraid of what your peers will say, and when lessons are detached from your world. There is so much to cover and prepare for tests that your passions are not part of the education equation.

If you have a child in middle school, you are aware of the challenges to thrive in this social climate. You want your child to succeed, but you also want your child to be happy and enjoy these years. Like most things in life, unless you know your strengths and are passionate about something other than being “cool” or keeping up with peers, it will be very difficult to determine where one stands.

Picture a different middle school experience.

Imagine your child making a personal connection to education, where learning is enjoyable and one’s interests and strengths are valued.  

Imagine your child moved by curiosity and interest, growing his/her passions in a learning environment that simulates real-world phenomena through hands-on, socially interactive, and solutions-oriented lessons.

Imagine your child collaborating with a team of peers, recognizing failure as a way to learn, and persevering in finding solutions. Together, they cultivate empathic skills in addressing scientific and social issues. Through cooperative work, they value and grow individual abilities, practice collaborative skills, and build self-confidence.

Imagine your child embracing big questions like “How does function define shape in molecular science and design?”, “How can archeology provide a lens to sustainability?”, “How can building imaginative worlds inspire scientific and innovative thinking?”, and “How are emotions expressed in rhythmic patterns?”.

Engage your child in a conversation. Choose a topic that he or she takes interest in and ask “big questions” like the ones above. Connect the question to an object in your home, your car, or wherever you are, to begin the conversation. Discover what you learn about your child, their thoughts, and dreams.

Gigi Carunungan has over 25 years experience as an educator and curriculum designer. She is driven by her passion to create engaging hands-on learning environments that ignite students’ passion for learning. She co-founded Synapse School in Menlo Park and is CEO and Co-founder of www.mynerals.com, a summer camp for middle schoolers.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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