Middle School Magic at Friends’ Central School
Discover how students at Friends' Central School are being guided to reach their full academic and social potential.
[Head photo: Students in Katrina Collia’s sixth-grade English class]
Friends’ Central is a co-educational Quaker Independent school in Wynnewood on the Main Line serving grades nursery through 12. The school has two campuses: a Lower School campus (nursery through grade 5) and a Middle/Upper School campus (grades 6-12).
“I truly believe our Middle School is a magical place,” says Friends’ Central Middle School Principal, and Friends’ Central alum, Andy White. “Middle School is a remarkable time in any young person’s life to figure out what they want to do, who they want to be, a time to take some risks and really start that process of identity formation that solidifies in later years. I love working with this age group, and our middle school teachers love working with this age group.”
About 180 students in grades 6-8 make up Friends’ Central Middle School, a school community that prides itself on fostering an environment where students can be themselves and reach their full potential both academically and socially through the vast offerings of sports and extracurricular activities and clubs. Purposefully, there is a balance in the Middle School schedule that gives students both a necessary academic structure and also free time to explore new interests and build community with their fellow classmates. “We certainly want our students to learn and succeed, and we also want them to be kids and have fun,” says White. “At the end of the day, if we can bring a sense of joy to this place, I think students really respond.”
Academically, Middle School students at Friends’ Central take five core classes: English, History, Science, Math and World Language. Courses in visual art, drama and music make up the arts program. Middle School students have regular access to the school’s state-of-the-art City Avenue Center for Innovation and Design featuring the latest technology from 3-D printers to wood-working tools.
Students also are exposed to practical courses that will help them in high school and college (and beyond) with topics like Study Skills, Financial Literacy, and a year-long Health course covering social and personal issues that all students face during early adolescence. With this solid Middle School academic foundation students are more than ready to deal with the expectations that come with High School. “I think a lot of what we do is knowing very clearly and keeping in contact with our Upper School colleagues to understand these are the skills that they’re going to need when they hit ninth grade,” says White. “It’s also really important that we’re instilling in these students a sense of confidence and real self-belief and self-worth, so the goal is that by the time they leave us, they feel confident in their abilities so that they can approach any problem and feel as though they can handle any situation.”
At Friends’ Central, extracurricular activities are built into the Middle School schedule so students have the opportunity to participate without interfering with their life outside of school. All of the middle school students participate in three seasons of athletics, which takes place from 2-3 pm. A multitude of offerings cover every interest from team sports (soccer, tennis, water polo, basketball to name just a few) to basic outdoor games like tag and capture the flag. The overall goal is to get students outside and moving. There is a robust after school drama program that students get involved in from acting to stage crew. Every fall, there is a musical and every spring a play, so the opportunity for involvement is year round. The drama program also runs a program called Playwrights in Progress, where seventh graders write a play and at the end of the year, students have the opportunity to submit their play to be workshopped and then put on the following spring. So eighth graders who wrote plays in seventh grade have the incredible experience of writing, producing, directing and casting their own work. If music is a student’s passion, they can join the chorus, jazz band, orchestra, or all three.
An offering that makes Friends’ Central unique is that students participate during the school day in weekly community service projects to fulfill the Quaker value of stewardship. The service projects occur either on campus or off campus at nearby places like a neighborhood retirement home, an elementary school or animal shelter for some examples. “All Quaker schools ascribe to the values of service and stewardship, but we actually live it every single week,” says White. “We make time for it. We feel it’s that important.” The students also have a weekly Meeting for Worship where the entire Middle School comes together to sit in silence for 25 minutes and reflect on a question or a query or something that they feel is important to think about at this particular moment. “There is nothing more community building than coming together and sitting in silence,” says White. “It is not a practice that people are used to, and it certainly takes practice to get used to. I would say as the world evolves, it becomes even more important. We think it’s really important that that time is protected and doesn’t get filled with anything else.”
At Friends’ Central, its Mission and Vision is “to cultivate the intellectual, spiritual, and ethical promise of our students; to awaken courage and intellect—and peacefully transform the world.” Every student in the Middle School is sharing this common vision and moving together towards this common goal—together. “I return to saying that Friends’ Central Middle School is a magical place,” says White. “I think that when they’re in the swirl of it—when they’re in the swirl of that beautiful bustle of Middle School—I think it’s hard to sort of recontextualize and put things in perspective. I do know that when they return to campus later on that feeling of, oh, this was a place where I could really be myself and experiment and not feel judged, but feel supported by my peers and by my teachers, all comes back. It’s just really rare to have a place like that. It’s profound to be a part of this community.”
Friends’ Central School will host several Open House events for their Lower and Upper Schools this fall. Find the information here!
This story was written for the Main Line Parent Community by Tara Behan Marmur. On-site photography by Polina Bulman Photography.