The Middle School and Upper School Should Be More Connected


Pete Zivkov

Students cheer in the gym bleachers during the 2019 holiday assembly. The annual holiday assembly always includes both the middle school and high school, but more assemblies should be held to further connect these two groups. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov.

Kaylie Wu, Assistant A&L Editor

Menlo School contains two divisions: the Upper School and the Middle School. While these share a campus, the two groups of students barely overlap. The Middle School starts earlier, lunchtimes are separate and class schedules do not align. As a result, only a flimsy connection exists between Middle School and upper school students at Menlo. This relationship needs to be bolstered to create a stronger Menlo community as well as an easier transition after Menlo eighth-graders enter the Upper School.

Currently, Menlo holds a few all-school assemblies throughout the year, including the holiday and homecoming assemblies. Some middle schoolers, such as eighth-grader Bella Jensen, think that increasing the amount of these all-school assemblies would create an even stronger connection between the two groups. These assemblies could also include more bonding activities, where different grades would be paired to compete in fun games. “Assemblies are the easiest solution since all other parts of the day are spent either in class or at lunch,” Jensen said. According to Jensen, Halloween is the perfect opportunity for an all-school assembly. Eighth-grader Noelle Lawson also likes the idea of more fun assemblies, because it would allow her to see her older brother in the Upper School. “Not being able to see [my sibling] at school is kind of unfortunate,” Lawson said. “I think being able to see [my sibling] and just say hi could make my day better.”

Similar to Lawson, Middle School Director La Vina Lowery agrees that connecting the two groups would be beneficial, especially since there are so many siblings within the community. According to Lowery, more than thirty of the current sixth graders have older siblings at Menlo and should have the opportunity to see familiar faces throughout the school day. Even at big events like Homecoming, more could be done to bond the two groups and siblings, according to Lowery.

Menlo already holds an annual pep rally on the day of Homecoming, but Jensen added that there could be all-school spirit activities throughout the week. Both the Upper School and the Middle School play spirit games on their own campuses, but these activities can easily be combined to create more of a community. “It would have been fun to overlap the two schools with spirit competitions,” Jensen said. “We had the pep rally, but there could have been so much more.” Freshman Raul Sandoval, junior Baxter Barlow and junior Eddie Fujimori all agree that spirit activities are a great way to unite the Menlo community.

In addition to assemblies and spirit week, Menlo can modify the creative arts program to connect its two schools. To start, Menlo could host more all-school concerts, plays and musicals, such as “Matilda”, which will be held in the spring. In spring of 2019, Menlo produced another all-school musical, “Oliver.” Junior Sean Nesamoney was cast as the lead in this musical. At the time, Nesamoney was a seventh-grader, so he felt that this experience prepared him well for high school. “High school students in the musical gave me lots of helpful advice,” Nesamoney said. “It was nice knowing that I would see familiar faces when I started on the Upper School campus a couple years later.”

Dance is another section of the creative arts that could be more connected. Sophomore Kaavya Baliga has danced in the Middle School and the Upper school, but she’s seen no solid relationship between the two programs. “Coming into the high school dance program felt very different from the Middle School,” Baliga said. “In general, the programs could just be more alike. It would even be nice to have more all-school dances.” Senior Louisa Moyer, also in the dance enrichment program, agrees that group dances would better unite the two arts programs.

According to Baliga, the Middle School and the Upper School don’t need to connect just in terms of creative arts. By further connecting the two groups, eighth-graders would also feel more prepared during their entire transition to high school. “I think it will make a lot of middle schoolers feel more comfortable with the transition to ninth grade, and it will help people make connections with people outside of their grade,” Baliga said. 

According to Baliga, to accomplish this, Menlo could develop a buddy system or partnered advocacies. By having a buddy system, middle schoolers would have direct contact with upperclassmen, whom they can ask any of their Upper School-related questions to. For example, high school students could volunteer to be mentors, and any middle schoolers with questions would then sign up to be matched with one. A mentorship system could also be made optional, so that all participating students are comfortable. “I think we could definitely have buddies,” Lowery said. “That way when the eighth-graders enter the high school, they at least know they have a buddy up there.”

Similar to Baliga, eighth-grader Bella Jensen thinks family advocacies would be a fitting solution. Family advocacies would include a few students from each grade, and the groups could meet once a month during a student life period to catch up and play games. According to Jensen, a system like this would present high schoolers as less intimidating to middle schoolers. Family advocacy would form friendships between multiple students, rather than one-on-one connections, as proposed in the mentorship system. In previous years, Menlo encouraged family advocacies in both the Middle School and the Upper School, meaning this solution wouldn’t be entirely unfamiliar to the community. “Family advocacy when I was in the Middle School was really fun,” junior Emma Borders said. “It helped me befriend people I wouldn’t normally be able to talk to.”

According to Lawson, it would also be reassuring to spend a day touring the Upper School campus and attending classes while still in eighth grade. Menlo could assign eighth-graders to a ninth-grader for one day, similar to how shadow days are currently organized with non-Menlo students applying to the upper school. This would allow eighth-graders to gain a firsthand experience before actually beginning high school. “It would be nice to see how things are done in the high school, especially since the transition seems pretty big,” Lawson said. 

According to Lowery, Student Life must focus on COVID-19 before further connecting the two groups. This year, Student Life wants to help students readjust to completely in-person learning before addressing other matters. “We’re still moving forward from COVID,” Lowery said. “So once we know the new normal, then [Student Life] can meet on [connecting the Upper  and Middle Schools].”

Apart from COVID-19, Lowery also mentioned that the Middle School and Upper School have completely different calendars, so it’s especially difficult to coordinate joint events. “Our schedules don’t have an alignment, but we could still do more all-school assemblies,” Lowery said. Despite scheduling issues, it is still important to find overlapping times to hold all-school events and further connect the community.