At Brighton’s Siena Catholic Academy, Lynne Battles noted she enjoys teaching the students in her seventh-grade reading/study skills class.
“You can relate to them on more of an equal level because they’re emerging adults,” Battles said.
Making the adjustment to junior high is somewhat difficult, however, according to one of her students, Kirmani Scott.
“At first I didn’t even know what class to go to,” she said. Her classmate, Shannon Wollscheleger, said she had attended a much smaller school before coming to Siena last fall.
“This school was bigger, and we didn’t have lockers, and we were only in two classrooms.”
And classmate Shawna Terry added that they have “lots of homework.”
Junior-high years are among a child’s most important, according to Sister Elizabeth Meegan, OP, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Rochester.
“We always think of the social and physical changes of children, but there’s also a more intellectual change,” she said of seventh- and eighth-graders. “Younger children think in very concrete terms. Gradually, in the upper grades, children think in more abstract ways.”
Meanwhile, William Davis, principal of All Saints Academy in Gates, said junior-high students are “trying to figure out who they are and where do they fit in this world.”
Timothy Leahy, Siena’s principal, said his school challenges its students to “take on more responsibility, such as moving from class to class” and to use their organizational and social skills.
Opportunities for Catholic junior-high education exist throughout the diocese. Siena and All Saints are the two stand-alone diocesan junior highs in Monroe County. Additionally, the diocesan elementary schools of Mother of Sorrows in Greece and Holy Cross in Charlotte offer seventh and eighth grades. Catherine Kress, principal of Holy Cross, noted that her school considers its sixth-graders part of its junior-high program.
Meanwhile, Rochester’s Nazareth Hall and Brighton’s McQuaid Jesuit and Our Lady of Mercy also offer privately operated Catholic junior-high or middle-school programs. Outside of Monroe County, Holy Family Junior High in Elmira is the only stand-alone junior high, with all other junior-high programs being located at 10 elementary schools.
Administrators of freestanding junior highs and of junior-high programs within K-8 schools noted that each arrangement offers unique strengths. Siena’s Leahy, for example, said he believes a distinct junior-high experience is important “as a stepping stone to high school.” And Sister Meegan added that students at centralized junior highs with large student populations are better prepared for the larger high schools most of them will eventually attend.
At Nazareth Hall Middle School, co-ed students in grades six through eight get a firsthand taste of high school by regularly using facilities at the all-girls Nazareth Academy high school, according to Susan Hasler, director of enrollment for The Nazareth Schools. Middle-school students use the academy’s science and computer laboratories as well as its music rehearsal rooms and cafeteria, she said.
Junior-high students in a K-8 setting also benefit from unique educational opportunities, according to school administrators. Mother of Sorrows Principal Sam Zalacca noted, for example, that his school offers activities specifically geared to its seventh- and eighth-graders as well as activities involving the whole student body. Kress voiced similar sentiments about Holy Cross.
“The pre-K-8 configuration provides students with an opportunity to appreciate and interact with younger students,” she said. Kress noted that older students can serve as models for the younger children, and that a pre-K-8 configuration allows families to keep all of their children in one building for a longer period.
Wherever parents choose to send their children, Sister Meegan said she hopes they will consider sending them to a Catholic junior-high program, because children are forming their values as they form their minds. All Saints’ Davis made a similar point regarding his students.
“I feel that at this time they need to grow in faith and find and learn about God and the Gospel values,” he said. “I believe that faith will get them through this age, and they may not know this until years later when they reflect and see how God was in their lives.”