Why the St. Vincent Middle School Model Works
HOLLADAY — St. Vincent de Paul Parish School has used the middle school model since 1992. The model was first introduced 70 years ago with the goal to make grades 6, 7 and 8 more responsive to the needs of early adolescents. The actions of these reformers and our faculty are supported by the last 20 years of scientific research on the adolescent brain, how it works, and what motivates these students.
As we begin to emerge in a post-pandemic world, middle-school programs, like the one found at St. Vincent School, must take the time to ensure that early adolescent students thrive. Our school mission guides us, and our middle school embodies innovative ideas and options that lead our students to greater rates of success. Using age-appropriate stages and accommodating environments, St. Vincent incorporates team teaching that utilizes four central middle school teachers as a team who share data and observations frequently so that they meet the students where they are. Research shows that academic, social and emotional success is based on making sure that each student has at least one adult advocate. Our program has effectively used adult advocates. We have also discovered that our program has helped middle schoolers value their peers more.
In 2018, St. Vincent discontinued the use of punitive discipline in the middle school and moved school-wide towards implementing behavior systems that drew on the best practices of Positive Behavior Support Systems (PBSS) and Restorative Justice (RJ). Both practices have received extensive attention as producing greater long-term benefits to affect behavior in positive ways.
St. Vincent also incorporates the essential attributes of the middle school philosophy into our electives program. Our dynamic electives allow students to explore things they love – like animals (through the Humane Society of Utah); language and communication (through American Sign Language); gardening and cooking (with our school’s chef, Chef Debora), and the world of business and finance (through the Junior Achievement program). All of these and more lead our students to have a variety of experiences and choices. Electives are the best chance for students to challenge themselves, explore things that interest them or that they are passionate about. These elements give them fun facts in an environment where they aren’t motivated by a grade, but rather by a love of learning.
Pictured above: St. Vincent Middle School team teachers are (l-r) Christina Eischeid, Monica Howa-Johnson, Kimberly Howe and Rachel Nemelka.