Tompkins Square Middle School is very proud of its curriculum. Faculty and outside experts are always refining the structures in place to reflect what truly works for young adolescents. All classes are student-oriented, with a focus on kids working together to grapple with the concepts being taught. The classes are project-based and wherever possible students take on the roles of what they are studying. For instance, when studying westward expansion, students will write a journal from the point of view of a well-researched historical character of their own creation. Then, they will use their knowledge of narrative writing and story elements to create an engaging, cross curricular piece. When studying Ancient Greece, they will recreate the Athenian assembly and debate whether or not to go to war with Sparta. A few times throughout the year, the whole school engages in solving a problem in Math and then they share their work with their peers.
Classes often link together to provide interdisciplinary depth to each subject. TSMS is run on 9-week modules, during which class studies cross over as much as possible across a student’s schedule. In 7th grade Humanities, students apply what they have learned in their persuasive essay unit to a series of mock trials, in which they will take on the role of a lawyer or justice. This culminates in a ‘Supreme Court’ case held in a downtown courthouse. During the Science Fair, students use everything they have learned in Humanities, Math and Science all year to produce a well organized, well researched and expertly computed Science Fair project.
The courses are broken up into 3 divisions: Core classes, Enrichment classes and Advisory. Core classes include Math, Science and Humanities—a combination of English and Social Studies in a 90-minute double-block. Enrichment classes include Art, PE, Dance, Spanish, Music, and Theatre. All students get all of these classes in varying amounts depending on their grade level. Some grades have immersion in Enrichment (e.g. Art six periods a week for one module, or three periods of Art a week for two modules.) while other grades have a sampler (e.g. PE two-three days a week all year). All students have at least two periods of Physical Education or Dance throughout.
Advisory meets every morning for ten minutes in a ‘homeroom’ capacity and twice a week for a full length period. Students are grouped in advisories with a faculty member who will serve as a staff advocate for the child. There are between twelve and fifteen kids in an advisory. This small-group setting allows students to have a space to discuss the many issues of early adolescence with a focus in social and emotional learning.
Our three-year Advisory curriculum has been developed in conjunction with several community-based organizations, focusing on such topics as the adjustment to middle school, healthy decision-making, identity formation, body image, bullying and teasing, and how to be organized. We have recently partnered with Morningside Center for Social Justice to infuse Restorative Practices into our advisory curriculum.