Parents consider starting middle school for boys
UBRANA — It depends on who gets involved and how things go, but it's possible that a new Campus Middle School for Boys could be on its way to opening about this time next year.
Several parents are looking into starting such a school, which would be affiliated with Campus Middle School for Girls, which now meets in the Wesley Foundation in Urbana.
The group looking into starting a school is hosting a meeting Aug. 15 for those who want to know more or want to get involved.
The idea is the school would be similar to Campus Middle School for Girls, only for boys, and feature small class sizes, a rigorous curriculum and be close to the University of Illinois campus, said Susan Layton and Jason Fisher, two parents who have been working to start the school.
Fisher and Layton have surveyed parents interested in the middle school for boys, and have found they want a core curriculum that includes a foreign language (that's yet to be determined), computer skills, service learning, music and art.
"I believe it's going to happen," Layton said.
"We're working on getting the word out," Fisher said.
The school would be separate from Campus Middle School for Girls, and would use a separate facility. Those founding it would like to keep it close to campus in order to take advantage of the resources the University of Illinois has to offer, like museums and laboratories.
"Being on campus is a huge advantage," Fisher said.
The university is "on the cutting edge of a lot of research," and seeing that firsthand could perhaps allow the boys attending the school to find interests in possible future careers.
However, initially at least, the school would probably fall under the existing middle school's "nonprofit umbrella," Fisher and Layton said.
They're still figuring things out from a financial standpoint — the size of the new school, the number of teachers and that sort of thing. They do, however, expect the costs of running the school to be borne by tuition, but they may do some fundraising, as well. And, the current Campus Middle School receives some grants, and the new school would be a part of it, so it might be eligible for grants too.
The current Campus Middle School is a co-op, with parents required to volunteer 20 hours a semester, and often run the activities that make it special, Layton said.
"It's a different feeling for the school because the parents are involved," she said.
Fisher said he expects parents would take a similar role at the school for boys.
Fisher has sons who are 5 and 6 years old, and he'd like such a resource to be available in this community when they get to middle-school age.
Layton, who has a daughter at Campus Middle School for Girls, said she'd like her younger son to have the opportunity to attend a middle school for boys.
She'd like that school to reflect the strengths of the current Campus Middle School for Girls, with small class sizes and a careful focus on individual students.
"The teachers being able to work one on one with students makes a huge difference," Layton said, in helping students grasp concepts and adjusting lessons so all students can understand better.
In general, middle-school age boys learn differently from girls, Fisher said. Later in life, he said, those differences start to go away.
Boys attending an all-boys middle school won't make decisions based on what they think their female classmates would think, Fisher said. He wants to see his sons struggle and work through problems, to collaborate and build teams, to have time to learn through unstructured play, or come up with their own endings to stories, rather than the "here's the story, and here's the point," and have the chance to go on more field trips and learn about the world through them.
Layton said she sent her daughter to Campus Middle School because she wanted her to be invested in school.
"Middle school can be a very challenging age," she said, but she's found that teachers at Campus Middle School are "committed to making a class of 10 work," and all students are included in things like playing volleyball or meeting outside of school.
"It's a small enough group to facilitate inclusion," she said.
"It's been fabulous," she said of her daughter's experience. It's also been rewarding to see the older students at CMS guide the younger ones.
"It's a culture," she said.
Marc Miller, the outgoing board president at Campus Middle School for Girls, has had two daughters go through the school. He also has a son in fourth grade.
"Campus Middle School has been fantastic for the girls, a combination of the same-gender (environment) and the small student-to-teacher ratio," he said, also citing its proximity to campus and parent involvement.
"Because of that, the kids coming out of Campus Middle School are not just academically advanced, but they're mature and relate to other kids and adults in a very responsive way."
The hope is to create the same type of environment for boys, and to provide them with the same benefits.
The current Campus Middle School board's response has been "sensitive" to the demand for a boys school, creating a committee of community member and parents to look into it, Miller said. The decision about whether it will actually happen will "likely be made this fall," he said.
A class at the new school would have a minimum of eight students, a maximum of 12 students, with a target of 10 students, which mirrors what Campus Middle School for Girls does, he said.
Parents have expressed interest in extracurricular activities like running, robotics, chess, fencing, soccer, archery and the arts, he said.
Brigitte Pieke is one of Campus Middle School for Girls' co-founders, and she's still on the board of directors for the school.
She and Marianne Fineberg founded the school in 1994, with nine students total in one room in the Wesley Foundation in Urbana. (Originally, it was called Home Hi, as they saw it as a home away from home for the students who attended, Pieke said.)
Pieke said the students have benefited from small class sizes, an intimate setting and monthly field trips.
The middle school years are challenging for all students, and boys in particular, she said.
"They need a place of their own," she said.
Meeting scheduled for more information
If you're interested in hearing more about a new Campus Middle School for Boys, or want to get involved, you are invited to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Wesley Foundation, 1203 W. Green St., U, where the current Campus Middle School for Girls is located.