What sets us apart: A deep dive into the Upper and Middle Schools

Investigative

Since its merger in 1969, Kingswood Oxford has been a school that fosters the ideals of vibrant student life, stimulating academics, and competitive athletics. In both the Upper and Middle schools, these factors are considered of the utmost importance. The schools’ schedules set aside time to allow students to develop mentally, academically, and athletically. These values are incorporated into the Upper and Middle schools in various ways, yet there are still areas in which both the Upper and Middle schools are divided. 

To put it simply, the Middle School focuses on the student. All the aspects incorporated into daily student life, in addition to the schedule, prioritize the development of the student. With a small student body, specifically 156 students ranging from the ages of 10 to 14, the school feels much like a family. The personal connections between teachers and students are prioritized as the school continuously grows. 

The Middle School schedule consists of five core classes, including science, history, math, English, and foreign language. In their sixth class period, the middle schoolers have a variety of electives that change every quarter. These electives vary according to each student’s grade level. Some electives offered include technology, life skills, and journalism. Every student must complete a music requirement, take life skills, and take a visual art class every year in the Middle School. 

Each class lasts a total of 75 minutes. Other periods of the day include advisee group, lunch, and an assembly block. No student will ever have classes that occur on subsequent days. Each student will have three set courses on an ‘A-Day,’ while having completely different subjects on a ‘B-Day.’ 

Director of the Middle School Ann Sciglimpaglia believes that this block schedule allows students to have greater collaboration and connection between their peers and teachers. “It was created to give more space for the children to have more time to do homework and to check in with teachers,” she said. “It also gives teachers an opportunity to do different things because they have 75 minutes.”

The block schedule allows students to participate and develop their performing arts skills fully. Middle School students must participate in either band, orchestra, choir, or electronic music during a designated block after lunch each day. Students only attend these classes once or twice a week, and when they do not have music that day, they instead have a proctored study hall. 

Due to the still-lasting impacts of COVID-19, Middle School students have felt an absence of extracurriculars. Ms. Sciglimpaglia noted that the decline in extracurriculars has most definitely shifted the school’s atmosphere. “Our extracurriculars are not as plentiful as they used to be,” Ms. Sciglimpaglia said. “And that is something, as we move forward, we’ll need to discuss – what extracurriculars we will offer.”

Associate Head of the Middle School Kathy Dunn, however, believes that similar enriching experience have been offered through electives. “Extracurriculars pretty much don’t exist now,” she said. “But I think the elective classes are really focused on aspects like technology, performing arts, and visual arts. Music has its own space in the schedule, but all the electives are like that as well.”

Each year, about 80% of Middle School students continue on to the Upper School. Although both schools are part of the larger whole of Kingswood Oxford, the transition and environment in which students learn are quite distinct. Due to many reasons, from the major differences in the schedule to the larger student body, each student has a unique experience. 

The Upper School prides itself on the originality of the curriculum and varying options for classes. For instance, students can choose from an array of art electives, and as students become upperclassmen, they can enroll in science, history, English, and math electives. Dean of Students Krista Sahrbeck enjoys the curriculum’s flexibility and choices, which present a contrast to the Middle School. “I like that our curriculum is well-rounded,” she said. “There’s a lot of different choices within our departments that kids can try. It’s outside of your classic traditional, five academic course schedule.”

In contrast to the Middle School traditional block schedule system, the Upper School schedule is a modified block schedule. The classes a student participates in will rotate daily, with each class meeting six times in the two-week rotation. The schedule accommodates eight blocks, each assigned with a letter. This already presents a significant difference from the Middle School. Due to a much heavier workload, Upper School students have more classes, but in total, they spend less time in each classroom. Each class meets a total of about 195 minutes weekly. This differs from the Middle School, where the class meets for about 150 or 225 minutes every week. Additionally, Upper School students attend advisee group on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday with Tuesday mornings reserved for assemblies and Friday mornings reserved for Personal Learning Block (PLB). During PLB, students go to an assembly if there is one that day, and if not, they have the opportunity to do homework or attend club meetings. 

Many have commented that one major flaw in the Upper School’s schedule is the absence of time dedicated to extracurricular activities outside of athletics. The Upper School offers a wide variety of student-led clubs including the KO News, epic, and even Fishing Club. According to a survey sent out to Upper School students, 93.6% of Upper School students who responded said that they participate in extracurricular activities at KO. 

However, there is no time built into the schedule for these activities, forcing clubs to meet briefly during lunch on Mondays or Tuesdays, late at night, or even on the weekends. This makes for a stressful time for students and makes it challenging for students to prioritize their mental health due to their participation in extracurricular activities. As seen among the anonymous responses to the survey, students hope that in the future, the Upper School schedule is modified to better accommodate extracurricular activities. 

In addition to this, students can be a part of the greater Kingswood Oxford community through after-school activities including athletics. Every Upper School student is required to participate in after-school activities, and the requirements are tiered to accommodate the different grade levels. For example, freshmen and sophomores are required to participate in two group activities and one fitness activity. Playing a sport fulfills one group and one fitness credit. Programs such as Strength & Performance count for a fitness credit while team sports and theater-related activities count toward the group credit. Once students become juniors and seniors, they are only required to obtain one group and one fitness credit and are allowed to take a recovery season. Sports and afterschool activities play a large role in bringing the Upper School community together. Additionally, Middle School students can participate in a varsity sport at the Upper School if they have the skills. By being a member of an Upper School team, these elite Middle School athletes have the opportunity to connect with their Upper School teammates. 

Even though the Upper School and Middle School are united under one name, questions have arisen in past years concerning the extent to which the two schools are connected. When comparing the schedules, the Middle and Upper schools are certainly not connected. There is simply no time in the schedule for interactions between the students. In addition, as found in our survey of Upper School students, those who attended the Middle School said they preferred the Middle School schedule to the Upper School schedule, highlighting the major differences between the two schedules. 

Furthermore, about half the general student body of the Upper School reported that they knew little or no information about the Middle School because of many changes to the school over the last few years. Another compelling piece of information that was discovered through the survey was that many students wished for more events and occasions that could take place to create and foster a proper connection between the two schools. One student discussed the possibility of Upper School students being able to have Middle School teachers and more opportunities for the schools to connect. 

Many current students at KO hope that the Middle School and Upper School can become more connected in upcoming years. For example, the Upper School could involve the Middle School in student government fundraisers. Additionally, extracurriculars at the Upper School could be expanded to include Middle School students. With these changes, Upper School and Middle School students would have more opportunities to connect rather than simply seeing one another once a month at all-school assemblies or briefly in the cafeteria. 

Nowadays, it seems that only the core values of this institution hold both the Middle and Upper Schools together. Despite the overall lack of connections between both schools, Upper School and Middle School students can still find ways to form meaningful relationships with one another. For instance, a sixth-grade student can have a friendship with their Senior Advisor. Upper School students can also bond with Middle School students by tutoring them after school in a program called Wyverns Helping Wyverns. In a similar fashion, familial relationships can connect Upper School students to the Middle School through their siblings and vice versa. 

Although there are opportunities for Upper School and Middle School students to connect at Kingswood Oxford, these opportunities are limited. In the future, we hope that the school can make modifications to foster a deeper connection between students in both the Upper and Middle Schools.