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Preparing for Middle School at Friends’ Central

A unique fifth grade curriculum that helps this age group transition from lower to middle school

teacher and student working on a laptop together

Friends’ Central School believes that fifth-grade students belong in elementary school, and the school has developed an age-appropriate program for fifth graders that builds their leadership skills while preparing them to transition easily and successfully into the next step of their school career.


FCS Lower School: A Magical Place for Younger Learners

Located on its own idyllic, 18-acre campus on Old Gulph Road in Wynnewood, Friends’ Central Lower School offers students in Nursery through fifth grade a purposeful blend of unique opportunities, problem-solving challenges, and rigorous skill building. The Lower School teaches students to be bold learners and creative, critical thinkers. These are essential skills they will carry with them as they move into the Middle School on Friends’ Central’s campus for grades 6-12 on City Avenue in Wynnewood. 

Student working in a garden

Fifth Graders Belong at Lower School

Friends’ Central Lower School Principal Melody Acinapura and the two fifth-grade lead teachers, Christie Kapothanasis and Rufino deSantos, pinpoint the many advantages to keeping fifth grade on the Lower School campus.


“It’s a safer place for healthy risk taking,” Melody explained. “Figuring out who you are as a fifth grader while also tackling a big transition is really difficult. It’s so nice that they get to know themselves better here at the Lower School and then head off to be more confident Middle Schoolers. In 2024, kids in this country are being rushed to grow up faster, and we get to rein that in to some degree and preserve their childhood. We’re not holding them back from maturing. In fact, they are maturing at an age-appropriate rate because, here, they’re the oldest rather than the youngest.” 


Rufino is acutely aware of the difference in life stages between a fifth grader and a middle schooler. “Before coming to Friends’ Central, I taught middle school for many years, with my longest stint being sixth and seventh grade,” he shared. “When my fifth graders start in September, I’m thinking, ‘They’re still so young!’ I just can’t imagine them in a middle-school context.”


Fifth Grade Leadership Opportunities

Friends’ Central fifth graders learn to be leaders on the Lower School campus; they are encouraged to present in front of other students and to take on volunteer roles; they assist in the School’s organic garden, at Admissions events, and with School publications. Fifth graders have first-grade buddies they meet with weekly, and they also spend time being older buddies for Kindergartners

three female students laughing and studying together on a sofa

Synchronizing with the Middle School

“Our relationship with the FCS Middle School Administrative team is really important,” shared Rufino. “We know what the homework will look like in Middle School, and we can start to replicate that. We think about how our fifth-grade curriculum and schedule can gradually align with Middle School.”


“Fifth grade is the first time when teachers are teaching departmentally to start to mirror the way Middle School is structured,” said Melody. “Developmentally, it’s a prime year for kids to start to understand what it is to have multiple teachers, have a homeroom base, and be moving from one class to another. Practicing those skills is really helpful to do here in fifth.” 


Students switch between Christie and Rufino’s classrooms for literacy and math. Because the classrooms are next door to each other and because the teachers collaborate and coordinate so closely with each other, it’s a gentle way for the children to practice the movement between classes, learning to organize themselves to bring what they might need along with them. 


“It’s a hybrid model,” said Christie, “where we keep some of the elements of a self-contained elementary classroom, but then we have one big moment for the core subjects to transition, as they do in Middle School.”


Learning to Organize and Plan

“One of the things we focus on in fifth grade is executive functioning skills,” said Christie. “We give them the tools to organize their time and space, to learn to follow a schedule and plan ahead. I also think the meta cognitive piece is key; that they get to know themselves as learners, their personal learning style. And obviously, there’s the huge social part of it; they’ve had the chance to get to know a group of people before they move on to Middle School. If they have that established, they have a better chance of continuing to be themselves and doing the things that they love instead of feeling like they have to reinvent themselves when they get to Middle School.”


The Benefits of a Two-Campus Model

Friends’ Central’s two-campus model is ideal for creating age-appropriate environments. “With there being such a clear delineation of campuses – which is only a benefit to us – I think our kids, moving into the Middle School, are so excited for a new adventure and still be within the same community,” shared Melody. “It’s the loveliest transition, and there are so many opportunities for FCS Middle and Upper Schoolers, but fifth grade really does have to be here so they’re primed and ready to transition softly into sixth grade.”

Tudor style building, location of Friends Central School lower campus

About Friends’ Central

Founded in 1845, Friends’ Central School is a Quaker, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in Nursery to grade 12. Their easily accessible Lower School campus (Nursery-grade 5) is on 18 idyllic acres on Old Gulph Road in Wynnewood. Students in grades 6-12 are on the 28-acre campus on City Avenue in Wynnewood.


Discover Friends’ Central this spring at an Admissions event.


Read more about Friends’ Central School!

Friends’ Central School is a coeducational, college-preparatory, Quaker school offering an outstanding independent school education to students in nursery through grade 12. Located on 41 acres across two campuses in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, Friends’ Central cultivates the intellectual, spiritual, and ethical promise of students. In every grade, students are encouraged to think for themselves and to find the courage to voice their opinions while understanding the importance of respectfully agreeing and disagreeing with one another in their quest for discovery. The results of a Friends’ Central education are lifelong. Their graduates pursue their passions at top colleges and universities. Alumni/ae report that they are well prepared to excel academically, to lead, and to problem solve. And, when Friends’ Central alumni/ae graduate into the world, they are simply extraordinary.