Start With A Question
Elementary students are celebrated for their endless questions. Because curiosity is the foundation of lifelong learning, middle and high school students must also have opportunities for expressing and pursuing their own questions. Meridian students learn how to propose, plan, and carry out original projects that address their questions, that solve the problems that they discover, and that express their ideas in novel ways. Doing projects requires students to engage in ever richer, more complex, long-term investigations that force them to decide which ideas and skills must be applied in order to succeed at their efforts. This work builds upon, and provides practice in, the many skills that support academic growth.
Educators frequently note that extra-curricular activities (e.g., plays, sports, school newspaper, or Model U.N.) are a favorite part of school life for many students. What are the attributes of these activities? They are:
- Long-term endeavors – students work in depth on a few tasks for a long time getting to refine their work as they go.
- Coached – a mentor with expertise in the field guides the students as they themselves do the work, offering advice and correction. Students get to make mistakes and try again without penalty.
- Authentic – the tasks are real undertakings that adults do.
- Exhibited before an audience – there will be peers, parents, teachers, and other community members who see the performance or read the writing or look at the art, etc. who care about the work that the student does and will provide feedback.
Meridian strives to bring these characteristics into our students’ academic work. In keeping with our membership in the Coalition of Essential Schools, students exhibit their work at various times during the year. When students finish high school, they need to be able to look back upon a body of work that reflects their understanding of concepts and their analysis of the information that they have studied. Visitors to Meridian see that both the process by which students learn and the products that emerge from their work are structured to produce enduring understanding of important concepts.
Our curriculum, designed to meet the goals of our mission statement, has been developed by our faculty in collaboration with teachers and practicing professionals in the different disciplines who work with Meridian.
The Meridian Academy curriculum is built around three main interdisciplinary courses: Humanities, including English, literature, art and drama, history, and the social sciences; Mathematics, Science, and Technology (MST); and Spanish. Within the classroom, hands-on learning occurs through the purposeful blending of theory and practice. Students engage in activities such as explaining local history, building inventions, debating public policies, writing plays, investigating the life within a local lake, carrying out United Nations simulations, and metalsmithing. In Spanish, students work to develop competence speaking a second language while learning about Spanish-speaking cultures the world over. Studio and performing arts, health, community service, and physical education are integrated within and across these three core courses and also are taken as independent classes. A chart of our course sequence is below (click here for a printable version). See the individual pages for each department to learn more about the specific course offerings.
Interdisciplinary curricula have many advantages over the traditional model of fragmented courses. Good learning is inherently about the making of connections between ideas. Within classes that bridge literature and history or mathematics and science, students are able to expand the range of the connections that they can make and better see the causes and influences of the events and ideas that they study. When they read a work of literature, they study the culture and the point in history that inspired its creation. When they explore a scientific idea, they learn about the new mathematics that was created to better understand that idea. Meridian values the disciplines and Meridian students come to understand each as a complementary way of engaging with and interpreting ideas and issues. Our interdisciplinary teaching makes it possible to highlight how each discipline provides a different window through which we view a question. The model of the Renaissance learner who can synthesize ideas from diverse intellectual realms is at the heart of our curriculum.
Interdisciplinary courses have many additional benefits. They often require team teaching so that students experience teachers modeling collaborative learning. Classes are taught in longer blocks with time for focused, uninterrupted efforts. Our classes permit Meridian students to explore bigger topics in greater depth and result in fewer, more engaging homework assignments.
Meridian's curriculum teaches students how to carry out long-term academic research projects. These projects may be theoretical in nature or have an applied focus. The ability to succeed with a complex research effort is carefully developed throughout the years at Meridian. Students in the oldest division undertake two year-long projects:
Junior Year Research Seminar - Each junior, supported by a teacher mentor and a weekly seminar, carries out an original research project on an academic question that they pose. Their responses to these questions will take a variety of forms, including laboratory experiments, research papers, a literary analysis coupled with a creative piece, and works of art. Students we have taught have used the following questions as the basis for their research:
- Can the Hippocratic Oath still apply in modern society?
- How are the world’s creation myths similar and different?
- In which bases will all rational numbers have finite decimal expansions?
- What role does the United States play regarding human rights in China?
The final products of these efforts are shared with the community at a research fair.
Senior Year Internships - While the juniors work on their research project, the seniors participate in an internship one afternoon a week for most of the year and then full time in the final six weeks. Students may work with a community organization, a non-profit, or a business. These internships give students the chance to take responsibility for an important task in a real-world setting as they develop an understanding of the adult world of work and contribute to their community.
Meridian students connect across the grades. Spanish classes are sectioned by preparation and can include students from many grades. Electives, extracurricular activities, and advisory are all multi-aged experiences. When our school travels for programs such as our opening week ropes course and team building trip, facilitators frequently comment that they cannot tell where one grade begins and the next ends and how unusual that is in their work with school groups. Humanities and MST classes are grouped according to the following structure:
- Division 1 - grades 6 and 7.
- Division 2 - grade 8.
- Division 3 - grades 9 and 10.
- Division 4 - grades 11 and 12.
Work within the Disciplines: Kids can do original research
Each discipline (e.g., art, history, mathematics) encourages us to examine and pose questions about our world and provides us with tools for answering those questions. Meridian students learn how to combine the complementary perspectives offered by different disciplines to better understand an idea or issue.
When we work within a discipline, we join a community of fellow explorers. Meridian students are junior researchers within the subjects they study. To do research well, students need to first learn about what is already known and to master technical skills that support their inquiries. For example, they learn how to collect and analyze evidence from a laboratory experiment, from primary source documents, or from interviews. But, research also takes students beyond basic skills as they become excited creators of new knowledge.
Problem-posing and Life-long Learning: Kids who keep asking questions keep learning
Learning is most memorable and successful when we are passionate about what we are doing. Enthusiasm and motivation are often greatest when students themselves pose the questions that are the focus of their work. Because student-generated questions are often quite challenging, students recognize that both persistence and creativity will be necessary for success. As students gain confidence in their abilities and discover how each solution leads to new questions, they come to appreciate the endless potential and process of learning. Studies show that success as an adult is tied more to an individual's "grit" than to their IQ scores. Meridian's focus on multifaceted, long-term work supports students in the growth of their tolerance for getting stuck and working through that frustration.
The Arts are Essential: Kids can be creative
The performing and visual arts are integrated throughout the curriculum giving prominence to the aesthetic and imaginative facets of all learning. Through both hands-on and theoretical study, students experience the arts as a means of expressing ideas and emotions; as a personal, cultural, and historical record; and as a celebration of human creativity and spirit.
Meridian takes advantage of its access to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the art museums at Harvard, and many other local resources as part of both our art studies and broader humanities learning.
The World Today and Interdisciplinary Learning: Kids want and need to know about their world
Adolescents are in the process of becoming young adults. They need a safe and encouraging environment in which to develop the skills and habits of adulthood. One aspect of that growth is an increased interest in, and questions about, the world around them and their roles as citizens within it. Students study current trends and events; how individuals and groups affect their world; and how they can contribute to the well-being of the larger community.
The questions that students ask about the world are inherently interdisciplinary. They are another opportunity to help students learn how disciplinary understandings can be merged into a more complete interdisciplinary view of a situation.
Students have regular opportunities for learning that involves both mind and body. When they work to create an invention, a theatre set, or a sculpture, learn how to fix a bicycle, engage in a political debate, or write a letter to an editor, they are blending both theoretical and practical thinking that is both exciting and memorable. These activities are good preparation for the complex tasks of college and adult life.
A Schedule That Serves the Learning Needs of the Students
The school's small size and common curriculum for students in a given grade makes it possible for the schedule to accommodate curricular needs and activities beyond the school building. Below is a sample week's schedule, but field trips to libraries, to visit a museum, to host a visiting art teacher or to do research off-site also appear regularly in the schedule. The last hour from 3:15 - 4:15 PM is optional. During afterschool, students can participate in extra-curricular activities such as music, sports, or drama, get extra help from a teacher, or just hang out with classmates.
Citizenship and Democracy: Kids can, and need to, help care for and guide their school
Citizenship within a democracy is characterized by both rights and responsibilities. Within the school, students help to establish, and come to embrace, those rights and responsibilities that will contribute to the intellectual and emotional growth of each member of the community. When students are involved in establishing the goals and rules of the school and in solving problems faced by the community, they are more likely to support, and help others to respect, these decisions. As students develop a sense of their own abilities to shape the school community, they begin to look outward to their local community for ways to address broader goals that their studies have helped them to define.
Diversity and Democracy: Kids grow when they work with people with different ideas
The school community embraces members with diverse backgrounds, interests, and ideas. Different dimensions of diversity help us to better understand our world and its richness, to see issues from other people's viewpoints, and to celebrate the creativity in all of us that makes it possible for groups to solve problems that individuals cannot.
Diversity also forces us to grapple with moral questions and the challenges of compromise. When diversity is present, when the traditional school control of movement and speech is loosened, when students' questions become central to the class, when contemporary issues are explored, and when students have the power to influence their world (both within and outside of the school), controversy is certain to arise. Controversy provides the opportunity for all members of the school community to consider how to live peacefully and productively with disagreement and how to embrace free speech when the content of that speech may not be appreciated.
So that the students, in their diversity, can live and learn in a safe, open, and nurturing environment, the community is one that values non-violent, non-consumerist, and non-competitive activities.
The Benefits of a Small Community: Kids need to be known well and to have leadership opportunities
The small size of Meridian Academy makes it possible for all members of the community to know each other, to look after one another, to contribute to the creation of school traditions, and to cultivate a feeling of belonging.
Meridian facilitates student-centered learning and provides opportunity for each student to be actively involved in the life of the school. Students progress toward responsible young adulthood by taking a leadership role in projects that benefit the community.
Boston as an Extended Campus : Kids need stimulation from the world outside the classroom walls
Boston is ideally situated for students to explore both natural and made environments. Recognizing that people only seek to preserve what they understand and value, students spend time exploring the woods and coastal areas of their region as well as the architectural and cultural resources of the metropolitan area. These explorations are integrated into all disciplines. For example, natural settings can be central to ecology, poetry, and photography studies and the physical education program includes lifelong outdoor activities such as hiking, skating, running, and swimming. See our News page for a sample of trips and activities.
Assessment: Progress requires reflection
When students play an active role in choosing what they will study and in establishing standards for successful completion of work, they are more successful at meeting those standards. They are also developing the skills of self-assessment that are crucial to achieving quality efforts throughout their lives.
Meridian Academy students receive regular, narrative feedback on their work that provides evidence of the progress each has made in areas such as problem-solving, effective writing, and mastery of technical skills. In addition, students present work to the school community and, in turn, learn to peer review their classmates' work.
Family Involvement: Even as they seek independence, teenagers need their family's support
Parents continue to play important roles in their children's education during the high school years. Though students at this age strive for more independence, they respond to family involvement in their school with improved motivation and learning. Meridian will be organized to provide a variety of opportunities for families to be involved in the life of the school.