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Middle School

Challenging tomorrow’s
change makers.

Developing holistic learners.

Mustard Seed School’s whole-child approach to education prepares our students to engage with all aspects of life, including high school. We care about your child’s academic readiness and commitment — we want them to work diligently toward goals and feel their successes over time. We care that your child knows how to care for and work with others. And come up with collaborative, innovative, and creative ways to impact the world.

Cultivating academic readiness.

Middle School students continue to grow as readers and writers. They become effective communicators, well versed in writing styles, mechanics, vocabulary, and grammar. Similarly, they deepen their math skills, starting with increasing computational fluency and efficiency in fourth grade to completing Algebra 1 in eighth grade. They also develop academic stamina: we try and try again. With increasing independence, middle school students apply their daily practice and learning as they research, problem solve, and demonstrate new ways of thinking.

Strengthening STEAM tools and skills.

Through our program, fourth and fifth graders engage in processes that prepare them for paths in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Students work in teams by collaborating on research, experiments, and answer guiding questions posed by their teachers. Finally, they prepare and give presentations to share their learning with classmates and parents.

Fostering collaboration and teamwork.

Our sixth, seventh, and eighth graders participate in multi-grade academic teams developing their understandings in science, history, physical education, art, and music. Combining interdisciplinary learning with meaningful multi-grade relationships, students are exposed to different points of view, take on leadership roles, and come to well-researched and creative conclusions. Students also gather with an advisor and peers in weekly advisory groups. During this time, they build community, and participate in book talks as part of the high volume reading program.

Forming students who engage deeply with life and are ready for high school.

When our students graduate, they leave as confident, self-directed learners, ready to make a difference in the world. In order to graduate, students must pass a series of eight academic exhibitions. Exhibition subjects include the visual arts. Mathematics. Music. Leadership and service. Language arts and literature. History. Science. And an area of their choice. After demonstrating readiness and competence in these areas, students then go on to some of the most prestigious high schools. There they continue to make meaning and develop their sense of purpose in their work and academic career.

Balancing technology and in-person connections.

In Middle School, students explore the importance of face-to-face connection and use technology as an educational tool. We ensure they’re well equipped for the digital age. And that they are well practiced, effective communicators when it comes to face-to-face community building.

Integrating art and music to deepen understanding.

At Mustard Seed School, we place a strong emphasis on learning through art and music. Every day, students process what they’ve learned in the classroom using artistic mediums and musical expression, like singing and worshipping. A deep understanding and skills in these areas offer students a variety of ways and languages to express their learning. We also know music and art education make an impact on academics and social-emotional development. That’s why our students have music and art class multiple times a week. We want children to learn and engage with the arts because they’re a key part of human flourishing.

4th-5th Grade Curriculum

Fourth and fifth grade students work together in multi-grade classes for subjects such as history and social studies, science, language arts, Spanish. Math is taught by individual grade.

Steam

In grades four and five, students pursue their studies in an integrated manner. Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics, are consistently integrated, as students pursue essential questions, research, investigate, experiment, report, and peer review. Generally, each “STEAM cycle” culminates in a performance assessment — an exhibition of an individual’s or a group’s learning and new found questions.

Mathematics

A problem-solving approach is the key to our math program. Students are encouraged to solve problems in varied ways and communicate their processes to others. Computational fluency and mastery of number operations, including decimals and fractions, is a primary aim of fourth and fifth grade instruction. Functions, fractions, and geometry are investigated and used in real-world contexts and with the support of hands-on materials. Still further, measurements and collections of data are represented in graphs and lead to discussions about probability. The Terc Investigations Program provides a firm foundation for understanding.

Language, Literature, Literacy & Written Composition

We launch the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop for the year by establishing the rules and routines of the workshops. We also teach and practice receptive and expressive language using technology to communicate safely and effectively in the digital age.

In order that students might become skilled, avid readers, teachers utilize reading workshops, book clubs, and reader’s notebooks. These activities and others provide important opportunities for students to develop vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills within the context of literature and in connection with science, social studies, mathematics, and the arts.

Through multiple lessons and conferences with their teacher, students learn grammar, mechanics, editing skills, and the craft of writing as they repeatedly choose topics, draft, revise, edit, and publish their work in the Writing Workshop. In both the fourth and fifth grade writing program, we use the Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop model. We explore forms such as informational writing, expressive writing (narration), literary writing (story and poetry), and persuasive writing (essay). Skills such as using parts of speech, punctuation, writing mechanics, spelling, paragraph organization, and rich vocabulary, are emphasized in the context of the writing process.

Spanish Language

Language acquisition develops through comprehensible input-based books, curricula, and culture. Children continue to develop fluency through reading, acting, writing, and game playing in the target language. The classroom experiences are highly collaborative, interactive, and story based. Homework and classwork reinforce their emerging language skills. Quizzes, tests, and performance assessments are administered regularly and assess vocabulary, comprehension, grammar structures, and fluency.

Visual Arts

In the visual arts, students work with a wide variety of media, including drawing materials, paints, clay, printmaking materials, and mixed media sculpture.

Music

In music, students sharpen skills and develop critical and creative habits of mind that will enable them to appreciate a world of human culture. As they work to become more independent musicians and learners, they compose and conduct their own pieces of music, perform the compositions of others, critique performances and use classroom instruments (recorders, Orff, percussion) to accompany themselves and others.

Cycle of Study

To ensure all students interact with interesting challenges, students follow a two-year cycle of study. In this two-year cycle, each year brings new topics. At the same time students also progress through the skill expectations appropriate to their age.

Cycle One: A Matter Of Perspective

What can we and can’t we see? How can we see more clearly and fully? Can we look beneath the surface? Can we see up close? Can we see far away? Can we see from another person’s perspective? Can we come to see eye to eye? Can we see the future?

These are some of the questions that guide the work for the first year of the fourth/fifth grade cycle.

Cycle Two: A World In Motion

Everything moves. Birds fly south. Seeds are carried for miles by the wind. Ships sail and rains move from oceans to plains. Even the earth itself moves, as soil erodes and plants draw from and replace the soil’s nutrients. People, too, move from place to place, city to city, nation to nation, as they pursue adventure, seek freedom, join loved ones, and find new homes. So we will often ask, “How do you move?” “Where have you come from?” “To what places or in what direction might you go next?”

6th-8th Grade Curriculum

Sixth through eighth grade students work and grow through three primary groupings. Two of the groupings are multi-grade: academic teams and advisory. The final grouping is a grade-level cohort where students explore subjects like math, Spanish, and language arts.

Overview

Academic teams are comprised of students in sixth through eighth grade. In these teams, students study subjects like history, science, music, art, and physical education. Academic teams follow a three-year cycle of study. Each year brings new topics and challenges. The central themes of each cycle are carried out across the curriculum in an integrated approach.

On Friday mornings, students gather together in advisory groups. Each advisory group has a mix of sixth through eighth grade students who meet together for three years with the same staff advisor. During advisory, students share book talks as part of the high volume reading program. It’s also a time to check in, support, and challenge one another.

In grades seven and eight, students begin their most complex graduation requirement: a series of seven academic exhibitions (see below). Each exhibition has different requirements. They often including research, writing, the creation of an artifact, and a public presentation. Exhibitions are based in student research and exploration around a teacher-designed prompt. Students exhibit their work in a variety of ways such as a science fair, homily, or lecture.

Below is a list of the exhibitions:

Music Exhibition
Art Exhibition
Science Exhibition
History Exhibition
Math Exhibition
Service and Leadership Exhibition
Final Exhibition, a project to articulate and honor how each child has changed during their years in the Mustard Seed Community

Language, Literature, Literacy & Written Composition

Students in grades six through eight independently read high volumes of text — one book per week — and they develop their thinking about reading by forming reading responses for each book.

We launch the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop for the year by establishing the rules and routines of the workshops as well as teach and practice receptive and expressive language using technology to communicate safely and effectively in the digital age.

In order that students might become skilled, avid readers, teachers utilize a co-taught multi-grade reading workshop, class reads, independent reads, book clubs, and written reader’s responses. These activities and others provide important opportunities for students to develop vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills within the context of literature and in connection with science, social studies, mathematics, and the arts.

Through multiple lessons and conferences with the teacher, students learn grammar, mechanics, editing skills, and the craft of writing as they repeatedly choose topics, draft, revise, edit, and publish their work in the Writing Workshop. We draw inspiration from Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop model and we use sites like NoRedInk for independent practice. We explore forms such as informational writing, expressive writing (narration), literary writing (story and poetry), and persuasive writing (essay).

Mathematics

Sixth grade: Students explore new concepts with number and operations while continuing to work with whole numbers, fractions, percentages, and measurements. Number theory work includes primes, factors, and multiples. Extensive work with geometry, fractions, statistics, and probability are also important.

Seventh grade: Students perfect skills and concepts learned in previous years, and they undertake an extensive pre-algebra curriculum. Students focus on proportional relationships and linear growth patterns. They study the order of operations and begin to solve simple equations and inequalities. Geometry concepts are also explored, including the Pythagorean theorem and circle geometry.

Eighth grade: Algebraic study, which can be thought of as the “science of comparison and reduction,” begins in early grades and ends with a formal study in the eighth grade year. Such study includes work with variables, expressions and equations, transformation of equations, polynomials, linear and quadratic equations, Cartesian planes, and set theory.

Visual Arts

In the visual arts, students work with a wide variety of media, including drawing materials, paints, clay, printmaking materials, and mixed media sculpture. The Visual Arts Standards focus on four areas of art — creating, presenting, responding, and connecting. All students in grades six through eight have art class twice weekly. Throughout the year students practice observational drawing skills in their sketchbooks.

Music

All students in grades six through eight have general music class twice weekly. Students study music fundamentals through drumming, composition, singing, and playing ukulele. Students explore various genres of music and take a field trip each year to see a musical performance. Chorus is required for sixth grade students and is offered by audition to students in grades seven and eight. Chorus members perform at the Las Posadas Celebration in December, and those who are accepted for the second term participate in the Annual Spring Concert and Choral Showcase. Additionally, students in chorus lead the Ash Wednesday Taizé service.

World Language: Spanish

Students broaden their emerging language skills at grade level. Individual grades read comprehensible input based materials that are developmentally appropriate and culturally expansive. Students continue to develop fluency through reading, acting, writing, and game playing in the target language. The classroom experiences are highly collaborative, interactive, and story-based. Engagement in classroom activities is key to growth and an important assessment tool. Students work independently and collaboratively to demonstrate comprehension and accuracy in the target language. Homework and classwork reinforce their emerging language skills. Quizzes, tests, and performance assessments are administered regularly and assess vocabulary, comprehension, grammar structures, and fluency.

History and Science

Using projects and collaborative group work students explore topics in science and history. Students practice note-taking and researching skills as they build background knowledge necessary for their projects. Students work to solve problems presented by the project and also presented through the hard work of collaboration. Students represent their thinking through models, charts, and sometimes through creative expressive like songs!

These philosophies and practices of our program remain constant while the topics of exploration change each year, offering fresh lenses through which to explore. Each year’s exploration is guided by essential questions pointing us to an overarching theme.

Cycle of Study

To ensure that all students interact with interesting challenges, students follow a three year cycle of study. In this three year cycle, each year brings new topics. At the same time students also progress through the skill expectations that are appropriate to their age.

Cycle One: The Quest For Friendship, Courage & Hope

What is your quest? We are told that Eric the Viking sailed the oceans to find “the land where the sun goes at night,” while Aeneus searched for a homeland and Sir Galahad set on a quest to find the Holy Grail. So, what are you looking for? Gilgamesh sought the secret to eternal life, Jason struggled to find the golden fleece, and Odysseus just wanted to finally go home. What are you hoping to find next year … or the year after that? According to legends, myths, and histories, people have wandered the world for thousands of years. Faced fear and danger.

Cycle Two: Finding Your Voice And Speaking The Truth

Who am I in this world and what do I have to say to the world? What keeps me silent? When should my voice be heard?

Throughout the year of cycle two, students will read, hear, and study people who had something to say. In the fall, students will read the narratives of slaves who found their voice. In the spring, students will read the speeches of civil rights leaders who spoke to the whole world. In between, students will hear the many varied voices of the writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as the voices of those farmers, soldiers, immigrants, union workers, builders, architects, and leaders who have shaped our nation.

Along the way, students will explore and develop their own voices and shape what they have to say to the world.

Cycle Three: Adversity, Change, And Making A Difference

What causes us to conform to the world around us? How does the world change? Who belongs?

These are essential questions that guide our studies in cycle three. Students will discuss the struggles, failures, and achievements of world powers, historical figures, and ordinary individuals. They will consider the mark they, themselves, make upon the world. As they examine the ways in which faithful individuals, in history and in the present, have been called to live out their lives and make ethical decisions, they will consider the nature of their own aspirations, enduring faith, and moral courage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does homework look like in Middle School?

Generally speaking, the nature of homework changes as a child matures. In grades four and five, homework is given to reinforce concepts and skills and to develop good home study habits. Students are assigned weekly homework, and it is due on the last day of the week. There are some projects that extend over several weeks, and there may be some homework during that time.

In grades six through eight, homework may mean time for essential practice, but more often it means preparation for the next day’s class. Our oldest students are commonly asked to read assignments and come to school fully prepared for class discussions that emerge from those assignments. They are also asked to regularly complete research at home so they may present it in class and share their learning with classmates who are researching other topics.

This means the extent to which students complete their homework will significantly determine their performance in class, their independence as learners, and their contribution to the learning of classmates. Incomplete assignments, then, will not only limit their learning that night, but also the next day as they come to class unprepared to work and perform well.

Faithfulness in completing homework, however, will not only give students essential practice and prepare them for classroom work — it will also develop the habits and independence they will need to succeed in high school.

Responsibilities of Middle School Students

  • To keep an accurate record of all homework assignments. Assignment books/sheets are provided to all Middle School students for this purpose.
  • To follow directions carefully.
  • To complete all assignments neatly, cohesively, on a timely basis, and to the best of the student’s ability.
  • To ask for help.
  • To ask teachers for missed assignments due to absences.
  • To stop working when an assignment has exceeded a reasonable time limit.

Time Limits
Students are expected to read at least 30 minutes per day at home — either independently or with a parent. In addition to reading, students are expected to spend time on other assignments:

  • Grade 4: No more than 40 minutes + 30 minutes of reading
  • Grade 5: No more than 50 minutes + 30 minutes of reading
  • Grade 6 – 8: No more than 75 minutes + 30 minutes of reading

In order to avoid late nights, students will also need to manage their time well when it comes to long-term projects.

Teachers will help students to plan well, but students should expect to work on big projects on a daily basis over extended periods of time.

Do Middle School students take standardized tests?

Standardized tests have their place. Beginning in fourth grade, students take the Map Test. For decades, Mustard Seed students have performed admirably on these tests. Our class means fall at or above the 80th percentile in every grade every year in language arts, mathematics, and other tested areas.

At the same time, our students are continually assessed by their teachers in many different ways. In the end, education is not just about bits of pieces of knowledge shown in a moment. It’s about on-going habits of work and mind, critical and creative thinking, deep understanding, persistence, and flexibility. Meaningful learning activities in school — comparing and contrasting, arguing and defending, gathering and weighing evidence — are important assessments. They show students and teachers what is known and what needs to be learned next. This is the kind of assessment that makes a difference.

How are Middle School students assessed?

When you hear our Middle School staff discussing assessments, you will often hear us use the metaphor of “snapshot.” We take lots of snapshots of student learning throughout the year, term, unit, and lesson. Each day we challenge ourselves to think how do I know each student understands? To what extent has the child mastered this concept or practice?

Throughout the year we look at snapshots provided by the Map Test. and Benchmark Assessment System by Fountas and Pinnell.

During the week we see snapshots of learning in reading responses, project work, quizzes. Not only do we assess the final product, we also gather information about student learning through their process towards the goal. Drafting and practicing is an important place to take assessment snapshots. As teachers observe and assess students’ process, we learn about how a student likes to take in, make sense of, and express new information.

Every day teachers observe student conversations, interactions, and daily practice work to determine to what extent a student understands and has mastered a concept.

What about the high school application process?

Our Director of Admissions and High School placement and middle school staff will guide you through the rigorous high school application process. We help you pick the right schools to apply to. Walk you through the process. Work with your student on essays and building a portfolio. Conduct mock interviews. And, when you’ve received your acceptances and picked the school that’s the right fit, we celebrate with you!

How does multi-grade learning work in the Middle School?

Everyone benefits when different grades work together. That’s why we’re committed to a multi-grade learning environment. Multi-grade groupings are well thought out, appropriate to students’ developmental stages, and continually assessed.

At Mustard Seed, fourth and fifth grade students learn together in cohorts for subjects like STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) science, social studies, art, music, Spanish, and physical education. They work in grade level cohorts for math and language arts.

Students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade work in multi-grade academic teams for science, social studies, ethics, music, art, and physical education. They work with their own grade level for math, language arts, and Spanish.

What are the benefits of a multi-grade learning environment?

We see the benefits of multi-grade learning every day. Learning in a multi-grade environment

  • enables children to be grouped by need, ability, or interest, not just by age.
  • builds leadership and responsibility in older children.
  • solidifies the skills of older children because they have the experience of teaching and working with younger children.
  • stimulates younger children through working with older children.
  • increases social experiences. Students have a broader social experience with increased opportunities to lead, follow, collaborate, and foster peer relationships.
Can Middle School students leave school during the day?

Our eighth grade students have the privilege of going out to lunch. Students gain access to this privilege as they have demonstrated integrity throughout their years at Mustard Seed. We start the year with limited lunches off campus, beginning with one day a week. As the year progresses and students continue to demonstrate their independence, the out-to-lunch days increase until students are allowed to eat out four or five days a week.

We treat out-to-lunch days as a privilege and work to make the expectations and boundaries clear so students can practice managing independence.

Do Middle School students take a language?

Spanish studies continue from second and third grade into the rest of middle school. Language acquisition develops through comprehensible input-based books, curricula, and culture. Children continue to develop fluency through reading, acting, writing, and game playing in the target language. The classroom experiences are highly collaborative, interactive, and story based. Our students frequently test out of Spanish 1 in high school.

What clubs and after school activities are available for Middle School students?

Middle School students participate in:

  • PROS: by audition, an ensemble of percussion instruments, recorders, and Orff instruments.
  • Basketball: led by parent volunteers. We often have a younger and older team. (Jr. Rebels and Rebels)
  • Chorus: required for sixth grade students and by audition for students in grades seven and eight.
  • Worship Team: by audition, a team that works to build their musical and collaborative skills through preparing to lead middle school worship. Students on this team often play ukulele, guitar, bass guitar, percussion instruments, and piano/keyboard.
  • Drama Club: a local theater company, Miles Square Theatre, runs our drama club.

STEM-Dream it, Code it, Make it: STEM Kids NYC runs our afterschool STEM program. Learn more here!

How do Middle School students use technology?

Mustard Seed School has a one-to-one laptop program in the Middle School. Before students are assigned their own, unique laptop each year, they learn about acceptable and unacceptable use. Computers and related technology are to be used for educational purposes only. This includes research, the production of research, the production of written compositions, and the production of multimedia reports and presentations. Each student is responsible for the care of their laptop, which is the property of the school.

What opportunities do Middle School students have to serve others?

Middle School students, as the oldest students in the school, are expected to lead as servants. Below are some of the ways they serve others at school.

  • Lead in worship by
    • Ushering
    • Lighting the candle
    • Leading the responsive reading
  • Lead in school celebrations of Las Posadas, Passover, and others.
  • Organize service projects that provide needed money, advocacy, labor, and support for either our immediate neighborhood, the global community, or the created environment in which we live.
  • Lead younger students by serving as interns or as park assistants.
  • Deliver homilies in worship (grade eight).
  • Take on special roles, such as:
    • Mary & Joseph at Las Posadas
    • Lead Star at Las Posadas
    • The Three Kings at Epiphany
    • Lighter of the Christ Candle at Celebrations
    • Narrators at Pentecost and other events

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