Odyssey School honors the complex journey of individuation, self-discovery, and finding one’s voice for justice in the world. Students build community through lessons in citizenship, while practicing meditation and reflection to discover a strong sense of self. Our curriculum requires students to play, to design, and to think critically, creatively, and compassionately.
Our first week of school, Journey Week, serves as an orientation to Odyssey Middle School and your homeroom class. This time is dedicated to bonding with your teachers and peers, taking risks, and expanding your comfort zone. Through experiential education students are exposed to and made aware of the great range of intelligences they and their peers possess. Activities include overnight outdoor trips, team building exercises, and a day of silence and reflection. Our schedule and its variety of experiences mirrors the six strands of holistic education we use in our academic classes as we are also orienting students to an integral way of exploring their world! During this week, students are set individual and whole class goals, preparing the groundwork for a productive school year together.
Each student is assessed early in the academic year and placed at the level of math appropriate for each individual’s optimal rate of challenge. For example, some seventh grade students take Algebra 1 and some take Math 6. While math classes proceed according to Eureka Math curriculum, we also include numerous forays into how math operates in the “real world” and how the discipline links to art, music, science, and the students’ lives. Sample projects include an exploration of the art of M.C. Escher, the building of scale models of the students’ rooms and famous buildings, and the construction and destruction of geometric castles. Small class sizes allow students who struggle in math and find it challenging are helped to understand it with compassion. Students who excel in math, graduate 8th grade school on track to advance beyond Math I (Algebra 1), II (Geometry), or III (Algebra II), and are able to enroll in Calculus and Statistics in their high school careers.
The 5th-8th curriculum includes Earth, Life, Physical and Ecological Science. At the core of every unit is the practice of asking questions and understanding our connection to the world all around us. Students are exposed to at least one day per week of design thinking (also known as Makers Monday’s) where they get a chance to explore our world through curiosity, problem solving, and prototypes. Students learn hard and soft skills to become scientifically literate and contributing members of our global community.
Classes use our Chromebooks, garden, creek, and hundreds of trees on campus to engage in hands-on learning. The classroom environment is experiential, engaged, inquiry-based, and extends beyond our school walls! Students head to high school with a solid understanding of the scientific method, lab writing skills, note-taking skills, research design, and a developed curiosity of the world. As an independent, holistic school, we are able to teach these skills in a way that is responsive to student questions, passions, and curiosity.
Social Studies at Odyssey School is driven forward by student inquiry, project-based learning, and experiential education achieved through historic simulations and weekly consideration of current events. We emphasize studying multiple perspectives and the insights these perspectives provide into our culture, our selves, and our future.
Throughout the middle school years, students become more globally aware as well as more meaningfully oriented within our local and national culture. We aim to cultivate an understanding of how and why our current American demographics, culture, landscape, government, and economy came to be. Within a framework of integral education, students will develop a wide and varied knowledge of other cultures’ alternative approaches to government, economic regulation, education, religion, and community. Students engage with primary source accounts that help them develop a crucial sense of empathy and compassion as well as a discerning eye for bias.
The Language Arts curriculum in the Middle School is mindfully curated to foster understanding, confidence, compassion, and enjoyment as students navigate the English language, read the works of writers from diverse backgrounds, expand their vocabulary, and hone their writing skills. The curriculum is divided into 4 social justice units – immigration, racial equity, bullying, and gender – and assignments and materials reflect these themes.
We explore various writing media including poetry, news articles, exposés, biography, and fiction novels. Through these works, we discover and discuss elements ranging from literary devices and writing style to social justice and personal character development. Whole class novels currently being explored include The Good Braider by Terry Farish, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Face by Dr. Benjamin Zephaniah, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Further, works of poetry by Pablo Neruda, Kahlil Gibran, and Maya Angelou currently serve as integral facets of our poetry unit.
Our writing units are designed not only to teach students about grammar, research, outlining, sentence structure, building paragraphs, and flow between ideas, but also to increase students’ comfort level in expressing themselves creatively and effectively while they begin to view writing as a tool for self-expression.
Language Arts curriculum goals are geared toward students achieving strong reading and writing skills, creative confidence, public speaking skills, research experience, and perhaps most importantly, a relationship with Language Arts stemming from an understanding of how to use reading and writing to enhance academic and professional success, expression, enjoyment, and equality throughout their lives.
Electives: Music, Art, Dance, Chess
Each semester, students can choose to deepen a particular area of study through elective classes. Offerings vary from year to year, are inspired by student interest, and have included yoga, rock band, gardening, cooking, game design, wilderness skills, chess, hip hop, and poetry. Every year we offer some genre of music, dance, and visual art courses, as we strongly believe that varied and in depth work in the arts are a critical component in holistic and integral education.
In particular, we are proud to offer all Odyssey School students the opportunity for weekly instruction in music under the direction of River Guerguerian and Augustin Fredric. River has played at the White House, Carnegie Hall, in Turkey, India, and throughout the United States and the world. His style of instruction is fluid, instructing and then setting back to allow the students space for personal and collective creativity.
During each academic semester, students participate in a daily physical class: either in a formal P.E. lesson (twice per week) or in recess in which students play capture the flag, go on walks, and engage in the physical learning strand on a more personal level. When we teach the physical strand, we emphasize team building, familiarity with different sports, taking appropriate risks, and healthy habits.
In addition to these daily practices, students backpack, hike, and get out into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains as part of their orientation and end of year trip experiences, in addition to any opportunity afforded by integrated learning!
Independent Research Projects
During the spring of each year each, Middle School students choose a subject of personal interest to research and present their work to the rest of the class, the parents, and even the school at large. Students learn MLA formatting and research skills as they craft a paper exploring their topic’s history, future, and ethical considerations. In addition, they create a 20-30 minute presentation using digital technology and engaging public speaking techniques, and complete a project to engage in their topic creatively.
Students are guided in research methods, connected with experts in their field, and supported in the development and rehearsal of an engaging public presentation. While all students are encouraged to include human resources in their research, the occasional student takes advantage of their option of exploring their topic through an internship or apprenticeship in lieu of a creative component.
With parental support a student may apply his/her independent research project through a semester long apprenticeship with a local business person, artist, or tradesman. The school will work carefully with the mentor to establish clear perimeters of learning, working, and assessment. The student will perform some useful tasks for the mentor in exchange for the learning experience.
The Odyssey School Mini-Mester is a two-week unit between the first and second semester. These two weeks are a celebration of “coming of age” through an immersive, thematic project. Themes have included deep ecology, perspective, self-acceptance, respect, and the joy and strength of diversity. During this project, our school day is loosely structured within the guidance of five main student-driven classes (Who Am I, Playwriting 101, Set Engineering, Costume Design, Music & Movement, and Research & Reflection) that incorporate the aesthetic, mental, physical, moral, spiritual, and emotional strands and allow students to flex multiple intelligence muscles in new ways.
Students are guided in creating lesson plans in order to then take the lead in directing other students to work as a successful team to create a final performance. They are encouraged to grow in self-organization and initiation by creating their own homework assignments; holding each other accountable; supporting, teaching one another and leading group activities; and keeping a Mini-Mester journal as a record of their reflections, homework, research, ideas, and contributions to the project. Their journals are a major part of their formative and summative assessments in lieu of academic grades during these two weeks.
Mysteries Council & Class Meetings
Each week, our Middle School students participate in Mysteries Council (whole class) or Gender Mysteries (gender-segregated classes), as well as a classroom meeting based on Positive Discipline. Mysteries Council teaches students to listen and speak from the heart on subjects relevant to their lives. It is not solution-oriented, but builds skills in relating to one another carefully and compassionately. In addition, these meetings create space for healthy exploration of the existential questions and developing emotional complexity characteristic of the middle school journey. Gender Mysteries takes the place of Mysteries Council every other week. The young men and women separate into two groups so they may carefully and more considerately discuss gender specific concerns.
Inspired by Positive Discipline, our Middle School community meets each week to express appreciation for the ways individuals contribute to classroom culture, as well as to workshop solutions to issues, concerns, and needs that arise from day to day. This meeting is solution-oriented and attends to a fundamental understanding of responsible democratic process.
Essential Learning Skills & Goals
As in all Odyssey School classrooms, students are given direct instruction and individual encouragement to develop nine essential learning skills and behaviors that contribute to becoming successful life-long learners. Students set weekly goals, considering their strengths and areas of growth, and create portfolios that underscore their work in the six learning strands. These reflections are shared with families during Student-Led Conferences each spring.
On the right, you can see one of our sixth grade students taking pride in self-initiating the task of cleaning our social studies classroom!
Assessment at Odyssey School is core to the learning experience as it is a reflection of the learning process. While our elementary students are assessed through narrative reports, Odyssey School students receive grades beginning in fifth grade. Our fourth grade and fifth grade teachers work together in this transition and invite students to play an active role in creating rubrics for their work and engage in discussion about the purpose and meaning of a grading system. In addition, our teachers participate in regular professional development to explore a variety of creative ways to assess knowledge through a variety of learning styles and intelligences.
As such, both teachers and students must be an integral part of both informal as well as formal assessment. Because Odyssey School is a community school and founded on relationships, grade report cards are not our favored means of communicating progress and assessment. Four parent conferences are offered each year: The first of which is a listening conference, led by parents in September; the second is a teacher-Led conference in November; the third is a student-led conference in March, and the fourth is a parent-teacher-student conference in May, a chance for all to reflect on the year and plan for the new school year to come.
We offer MAP testing, a computerized adaptive test that helps teachers, parents, and administrators improve learning for all students and make informed decisions to promote a child’s academic growth. This gives us a general understanding of how each student is performing in reading, language, math, and science and is scored on the basis of a national percentile. By giving this test early, we can get a general sense, from a third-party perspective, of a student’s academic strengths as well as areas of challenge. This achievement test supplements our teachers’ personal assessments.
What is different about testing at Odyssey School? We primarily use classroom assessments to drive instruction instead of ‘teaching to the test’.