I just dropped in on an open house to the middle school in our neighbourhood. My son will be going there next year. I realize some parents are shopping around for that personalized experience for their children, but I am more than happy to just send him to the middle school to which we "belong." In fact, we moved specifically to get into this catchment area.
The middle school is quite large despite having only 2 grades - 7 and 8. I believe they said it normally has 450 students across the two grades. There are three tracks -- the standard one with instruction in English, a French immersion and an extended French where somewhat over half the instruction is in French. I personally was encouraging him in this direction (extended French), but it just wasn't anything he was interested in.
While my middle school had grade 6 as well, otherwise this reminds me quite a bit of my middle school. It has a pool. The kids are in home room and basically move in "pods" with their group, though apparently they rotate the kids on the more elective courses -- shop (here called STEM), home arts (sewing and cooking) and art instruction. I think all kids end up taking these for 7th and 8th grade, but they break up the groups and rotate them through 3 times a year. They also shuffle the kids for gym and swimming. That seems like a pretty good system.
Part of me wants to wrap him up in bubble wrap and not let him too close to the power tools in STEM, but he just has to be careful (and they may not even use the jig saws until 8th grade -- it wasn't clear). And I have vowed to not be too much of a helicopter parent. After all, I had huge amount of freedom growing up and in school, certainly compared to what he experiences.
I simply can't remember if we had lockers in middle school or not until high school, but they have them here. He was pretty thrilled about that. On the whole, I think he'll have a good time. He does make friends so easily.
It does seem a fair bit like my middle school but it is much larger than the one my wife went to. (The high school is also quite large.)
I found two things disappointing -- one moderately serious and one very serious. They don't have enough time to make band a stand alone class. In fact, it is possible to have children pulled out for band and strings, but it is sort of random which classes they miss. That suggests this really is more like small group instruction/lessons and not putting an actual band together. He's not all that interested anyway, but if there is a more formal band program at the high school, it would be all but impossible to catch up. Anyway, it is a shame, since the elementary does have sort of an arts/music focus and he'll be losing that.
The second issue, which I find far more obnoxious, is that due to a relatively large number of parents who objected to their children taking co-ed gym and in particular swimming classes, they have made all the phys ed instruction single sex. I deeply resent this, as it sends entirely the wrong message about how boys and girls should interact. I do understand that these parents have strong objections to their daughters mixing with boys, but they chose to come to Canada with its relatively secular society. (Personally I do feel there is far too much respect given to religion even here.) Yes, I can see the downside of children not participating in gym, but I think that would be the better course. The current accomodationist approach just lets one group hold the rest of society hostage, and it pisses me off. It's pretty much the same thing going on with the new sex ed curriculum where one school is more or less shutting down to these obnoxious parents and their demands. I guess that isn't such a flashpoint here, and the principal has decided to pick and choose his battles (bending on swimming but not the sex ed curriculum), but I am still very disappointed. Nonetheless, I will try not to let this one issue outweigh the overall good vibes I had from the school visit.