Don’t call it “middle school” in Nashville any more. The public school system is re-branding grades five through eight as “middle preps” and adding foreign languages and extracurriculars in an effort to compete with private schools and other county systems.
Metro Schools’ biggest loss of students occurs between the elementary and middle school years, according to an outside study from grad students at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. Parents leave their neighborhood K-through-4 and opt for private schools, move out of county or – increasingly – try out a charter school.
The “Middle Prep” name-change represents a “culture shift,” says MNPS chief academic officer Jay Steele. He says the middle grades are meant to be preparation for high school and beyond. The district is adding teachers so every student has foreign language classes by the 2015-2016 school year and emphasizing activities like music and sports.
“What is it that the middle school child values and the parents value? And that’s what we wanted to make sure we were offering our middle school kids – advanced options that give them high school credit, to clubs, to athletics, to arts. What is it that we can provide that other schools cannot provide?”
While Steele acknowledges competition plays a role in the re-branding, he says the ultimate goal is to engage students and maintain the excitement for learning that often fades after the elementary years.
- Every middle school now at least offers Algebra I for high school credit.
- 20 teachers will be added so every school has at least one foreign language.
- Advanced students can take high school classes online through the district’s virtual academy.
- 6th graders will now be able to play competitive sports on 7th and 8th grade teams.
- A class called “high school 101” has been added for all 8th graders.
- A program called Middle Preps Ambassadors will send eloquent students to community events as a way to reach out to prospective parents.