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Through Electives Students Find Themselves
Megan Bard, Associate Director of Communications

Each week during the academic day, you’ll find Rectory School students biking trails woven through the back wood, designing their latest 3D printed creation, strategically placing a pawn on a chessboard, or sewing fleece hats to be donated to a local social service organization. These activities are not options during the regular daily morning break period; they are samples of the dozens of opportunities middle school students can experience through Rectory’s elective program.

Fifth through ninth graders are encouraged each trimester to explore their interests and passions or to try something new, through the dynamic program that gives students an exploratory experience in a variety of disciplines. While the offerings might occasionally repeat to give more students access, they are rarely the same.

“With the elective program at the middle school level, we’re able to build a good springboard from which our students can launch when they go to high school,” Director of Academics Lisa Hart said. “Whether they’re being exposed to something for the first time or taking it a second time and acting as a team leader or going deeper into the material, the electives allow our students that chance to explore.”

Roughly 10 electives are offered each trimester and range from 3D printing and chess to community service activities and robotics to cooking and experimental artmaking. Some traditional high school-level electives are also an option, including yearbook and newspaper, allowing middle schoolers to get first-hand experience in designing, creating, and editing each product. Electives are graded on an S-curve, but because students can choose their electives (and usually receive their first or second choice) the grade is not at for forefront of their minds.

Two students playing a game of chess.

“The elective program was intended to be nonacademic in nature and give students an opportunity to share a passion of the faculty,” said Glenn Ames, assistant head of school and director of middle school.

Prior to student selections, faculty present their electives to the student body and do their best to sell their proposal, which represents a hobby or passion they pursue outside of the classroom. In the end, every student who signs up for an elective wants to be there, shares the interest, and will be engaged in the activity.

“It’s a choice for the faculty what they offer and a choice for the students what they select. Everyone takes core academic classes; through electives, they can fit something else they enjoy into their schedules,” said Jacob Guertin, admissions associate.

Two mornings a week, 16 members of The DiRectory, Rectory’s student newspaper, are hard at work researching, writing, and editing. This year, Mr. Guertin and Head of School Fred Williams are the hype team overseeing the group of budding reporters and editors.

“I want to get kids excited about news. I want them to be curious about things that are happening on campus, within our community, that are cool stories. This is a way to generate excitement from within the community about the great things that happen here,” Mr. Guertin said.

Students are interested in their peers’ stories—Mohamed M.'s recent trip to Egypt, Rena A.'s violin prowess, and Roman B.'s trap shooting success. They’re writing fashion articles and following Rectory sports.

Across the hall, during a recent game of Othello, Isabel D. ’23 bested her teacher, a first for Patrick McCarthy, a history teacher who is offering the unplugged gaming elective this fall.

“Competition is healthy and, in the broader scheme of what we do, socializing and communication on a non-forced level can only benefit them,” McCarthy said. “We used to play board games. For some of these students, this is their first exposure to these games because of our access to technology.”

During the community service elective with learning specialist Maria Sangiolo-Jessurun, 13 students have already drafted a plan on how they can support Rectory and the greater community. The fall group is focused on four projects: sewing purple fleece hats for TEEG; collecting loose change to cash into gift cards to donate to the region’s homeless and women’s shelters; planning the annual Rectory Heart-y Party and creating donation bags for the Putnam Family Resources Center; and working with the school woodshop to build a Little Library in the likeness of Memorial Dormitory with the bell tower for campus.

Teacher showing two girls how to make felt hats.

They will also take on a special holiday project writing cards to past Rectory faculty and staff who might live alone and remind them of their connection to the school.

“After talking with them about the project the students could really see how their relationships here can affect their lives later on,” said Mrs. Sangiolo-Jessurun, who loves doing things for others and is happy to share her passion for community service with students.

Across campus in the Collins Family Art Barn, art teacher Judy Blakelock guides sixth and seventh-grade students through experimental art projects including painting portraits with anything but a paintbrush, printmaking, and a traditional way of cloth dying called batik. In the past, she and math teacher Erin Bradley have offered electives in creating mosaics and painting portraits to support an international charity organization.

Young boy painting a self portrait.

“It’s an opportunity for students to get into the art barn even if they don’t have a structured art class during that given term. Sometimes it’s just nice to have unstructured, creative free time in the art barn,” she said.

The unstructured time is important for student learning and bonding with faculty, according to Mr. Ames.

“It holds to our brain-based learning approach. It also really breaks up the day to have academics and then electives before returning to academics. It allows different students to bond that wouldn’t otherwise come across each other. It gives students and teachers a chance to relax and collaborate with each other and allow students to better understand who they are and for faculty to get a profile of their student outside of the academic setting,” he said.

To learn more about Rectory’s middle school electives program and curriculum, please visit our Middle School (5-9) web page: https://www.rectoryschool.org/academics/middle-school-5-9-academics

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Please contact Dawn Chmura, Director of Communications, regarding the following:

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Rectory School Communications
528 Pomfret Street
P.O. Box 68
Pomfret, CT 06258

860.963-6740