By: Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, SJA Parent
With the holiday approaching and application deadlines looming I hear chatter in the halls of St. James from both students and parents trying to decide whether to continue at St. James for middle school or move to another school in search of the perfect fit. We all want the best experience for our child and in the Baltimore area there are so many excellence schools to fit every personality and learning style. My daughter Bella started St. James in Kindergarten and elementary school years were filled with laughter, learning, nurturing and a personalized approach to her needs and abilities. She tried every sport, sang, acted, learned chess and jumped at every chance to join in whatever activity was presented. By fifth grade, we could clearly see she was growing into a pre-teen and expected to be treated differently. She was coming out of her shell and needed a school that would challenge her personally and academically while still providing the small community feel we have come to love. She wanted to be respected for her abilities, continue to try new things, pull away from the younger kids and given the freedom and independence she and her friends have clearly earned.
The middle school program at St. James accomplishes those goals and so much more. My husband and I kept hearing about the International Baccalaureate program but honestly did not understand what that truly meant until Bella was immersed in it. Even though she spends her days in Northern Baltimore County she is exposed to racial, cultural and religious differences through speakers, her academic classes and open discussions. She travels around the world not only learning facts and dates but instead learning the reason behind religious differences, wars, tragedy and celebrations. She is given the opportunity to express her opinions even if they go against the norm and has been challenged to articulate her beliefs through spoken and written word.
St. James has an incredible team of teachers and administrators who work together to find the potential in each child. They focus on the arts as well as sports and give every student the opportunity to balance both. This is important to our family. We did not want to focus Bella on one or the other but instead let her try everything then eventually decide where her passions lie. She continues to play lacrosse goalie but over time dropped some of the other sports that she was less excited about. The theatre program is incredible. With 3 productions a year matching the skill and development of the children at each level we have watched Bella grow from a Snail in Frog and Toad, Madame in The Aristocrats, various ensemble roles and this year Dolly in Hello Dolly. Through training, patience and hard work she has developed a true passion for theatre and public speaking. Skills that will be useful throughout her life.
To me, that is what St. James is doing – preparing children for life. Each year of middle school I can see the kids take on more responsibility. The classes are vigorous, expectations are high but when a St. James student goes to High School and eventually college they will be ready for whatever comes their way.
I am a graduate of St. James, but when I attended St. James the school ended at 6th grade. Thirty years later I am still friends with many of my St. James classmates. Even though the school has grown both in size of the campus and the number of students the strong education and close community has never changed.
I believe one of the most unique and important experiences in middle school are the class trips. 5 days at Echo Hill, 4 days at Sheridan and 4 days at Disney. I shared with Bella last year that when I was in 6thgrade at St. James our class also went to Echo Hill for the week and those memories are still with me today. These trips are defining moments in a child’s life. Going to an unfamiliar place, learning new skills, being pushed out of your comfort zone and going home so proud of everything you accomplished. Isn’t that what life is about?