Arbor delights in the unique challenges of educating adolescents. In our adolescent program, adults and students function as a community of learners in an atmosphere of mutual respect and support. Students participate in every facet of a miniature economy, from production and exchange to marketing, advertising, customer service, and more. Driving this Microeconomy are the practical endeavors of working in the garden, keeping bees, and preserving our watershed, which provides context and meaning for challenging academic work and offer opportunities for leadership and authentic responsibilities within the community. In taking part in real work that benefits society, adolescents have the opportunity to discover their purpose and find their voice.
Adolescents want to see their own role in everything: they are active doers, not passive watchers or listeners. An authentic Montessori Adolescent Program puts the student on the road to the ultimate goal of achieving economic independence and developing the knowledge and skills to participate in and transform society. The program feeds the adolescent’s need to know the math, science, humanities and language work they do in the classroom translates into what they will need in their everyday lives. That is why the curriculum is experiential; it is designed to bring active and physical participation into the academics. Traditional middle schools rely on textbooks for their curriculum and top-down instruction rather than experiential curriculum.
Challenging & Varied Curriculum
The Adolescent Program divides its curriculum into five cycles of work during the year, each being four to five weeks in length. The three-part lesson, a foundational part of Primary and Elementary pedagogy, is also relevant in the AP. The three parts are: introduction, exploration and mastery (which includes the presentation of learned concepts). The four to five-week cycle is an appropriate time frame for young adolescents as well as preparing them for the semester system in high school and college. Students are active in both skills classes like English Language, Math, and Spanish, but also interdisciplinary work in our Humanities and Occupations, which respectively examine historical cultures and the sciences through practical work.
The Format Mirrors Your Child’s Developmental Needs
Your adolescent is going through a profound, intensive and rapid development both physically and emotionally. And with those physical and emotional changes, come very specific needs that differ from those of elementary-aged students.
Those needs include:
- Sense of belonging/connection to the community
- Independence and responsibility (and economic independence)
- Purposeful and challenging work (real work and authentic responsibilities)
- Positive communication with adults and peers
- Opportunity for self-definition and self-expression (discover their purpose, find their voice and speak their truth)
- Opportunity for creative expression
- Competency and achievement
- Experience with leadership and service
- Intimate connection with the land/place (develop and ecological awareness)
- Physical activity
- Structure and clear limitsThe Adolescent Program’s thoughtful and developmentally appropriate curriculum engages and fulfills your teenager through a close community and meaningful work.
When visiting our AP classroom, you immediately notice that it looks very different from the Montessori classrooms with which you are now very familiar. At the same time, it does not look like a traditional middle school with rows of desks, blackboards and a teacher desk up front. Instead, you see a large multipurpose area with a restaurant-size kitchen, a few desktop computers, and tables, chairs and risers located throughout the room that break the room down into comfortable, smaller and more intimate areas. The room itself is representative of the program: the students and teachers are all part of the larger community yet they form close connections through the smaller group work and advisory group gatherings.
Maria Montessori was astonished that during the time of physical, emotional, and intellectual turmoil called adolescence, most cultures immobilize children behind desks rather than let them put their energies into meaningful projects. The Montessori AP classroom addresses that need.
Adolescent as a Social Being
At this age, friends are critical to every facet of a middle school student’s happiness. To capitalize on that facet of this plane of development, the Montessori program incorporates many options for socializing that are integral to their learning. Students participate in group presentations at the end of every cycle. Across the curriculum, students are encouraged to debate, defend, share, assert, converse, and challenge the presented content. Fully half of the curriculum is delivered in a small group setting, with the expectation of “collaborate; don’t separate”. Students learn to practice acceptance, equity, sharing responsibility, accountability. Therefore, Montessori students enter high school more skilled and patient in the face of working with others; all others.
Learning Occurs Beyond the Classroom
The new school year kicks off with an orientation trip that focuses on team-building. The, throughout the year, students have the opportunity to dive deeper into the curriculum by going out into their community to visit landmarks, museums and other sites that will enhance their learning experience.
At the end of the academic year, the 7th year student travel to Washington D.C. and the 8th years travel to the Dominican Republic. These trips are a culmination of their time together and extend their academic lessons into the greater environment. They return from these trips with a new understanding of their world, their community, and themselves.
The close relationship between the teachers and the students is critical to the foundation of the Arbor Adolescent Program. If the work of the adolescent community is real adult work, then the adolescents (by definition) can’t do it by themselves. The adult guides work side by side with the student to serve as experts who offer support, instruction and feedback.
In the adolescent community, the relationship between the adult and the adolescent is one of respect, understanding and love. The adult in the adolescent community takes on many different roles: teacher, guide, coach, advisor, role model, material, and expert. With a student-teacher ratio of 8 to 1, the students are ensured individualized attention.
Opportunity for Self-Expression
Adolescents must have opportunities for self-reflection and express their opinions without fear of judgement. They thrive in an environment where they can feel safe as they go through the profound physical and emotional changes that is an integral part of adolescence.
Microeconomy and Opportunities for Leadership
The social organization of Arbor’s AP incorporates multiple opportunities for students to take on roles within the community. These opportunities are key to the development of self-confidence and practical skills necessary to the developing young adult. One way students can experience this valorization is through taking on formal leadership roles in the AP microeconomy. Each aspect of our community – from bee-keeping to Pizza Day to class historian – is managed by a student leader who takes responsibility for the work associated with that role. Students apply for these roles as 7th Years, getting first-hand life experience writing job applications and advocating for themselves.
The play production cycle is a one-month project that culminates in the performance of a theatrical production with full tech (lighting, sound, costumes, etc.). It provides opportunities for learning about drama as an art form and practicing theatrical skills. Participating in the production requires work with both the head and the hands, integrating practical and intellectual work. It offers opportunities for self-expression through design, construction and dramatic performance. The adolescent’s need for real work, an authentic third period to the learning, is satisfied by performing the work for a large audience of adults, children, alumni, and peers. Finally, the experience of working together to create something much bigger than anyone could do alone creates a powerful sense of cohesion and mutual appreciation in the class community.
Our Alumni Excel in School – and in Life
Arbor students go anywhere. Since the founding of Arbor’s Adolescent Program in 1997, we have watched our 8th year students matriculate to high school, college and beyond. Approximately 50% of Arbor graduates enroll in private high school while the other half chose a public school experience. Students often have their choice of schools and are supported in the transition. Our students experience much success in whichever environment they choose. Our graduates attend a variety of college and universities, both public and private.
Our students’ success confirms that an authentic Montessori elementary is an excellent education for life. They excel in school and careers of choice but, more importantly, emerge as confident, well adjusted, happy adults.