I began teaching in 1993 at Loggers’ Run Middle School in Boca Raton. I taught 7th grade English Language Arts there for five years and then helped to open Eagles Landing Middle, where I taught 8th grade English Language Arts for 10 years. After that, most of my time was spent teaching high school English, mostly 9th grade. Although my past middle schools are high-achieving schools, I always felt that middle schoolers needed something different from what they were provided. We place these young adolescents in large public middle schools where we still shelter them to the point of handicap (walk them in a quiet line and sit in assigned seats at lunch), yet toss them into an environment starkly different from elementary (no recess, switch to 6-8 different classes and teachers, have letter grades for the first time). I have seen 6th graders in shock when starting middle school, and freshmen come to the high school socially unprepared, also in shock that they can actually walk to the cafeteria without an escort.
Private schools, and now charter schools, often break from the traditional structure of public’s elementary, middle, and high. Many private and charter schools are K-8, K-12, and 6-12. I sent my eldest son to a K-8 charter for middle school when we had no other options, and he enjoyed it. I felt comfortable and safe with him there. But while searching for a school, I was surprised at what I found: in Palm Beach County, there are no private or charter middle schools. Zero. The only schools in Palm Beach County that are grades 6-8 are public schools. And again, although Boca Raton has five public middle schools and Boynton Beach has two (with one closing this year), Delray Beach only has one, Carver Middle, which is consistently rated “C” and “D” by the Florida Department of Education.
Back in 2009, my twins were turning two years old and I wanted a place to bring them to play that was different from the typical children’s gyms. They were not in preschool, so I wanted to find a facility where they could learn while playing. There was nothing around that quite fit my vision, so I created it. I was inspired by my kindergartner’s Montessori classroom and founded The Bee’s Knees Learn & Play, an academic indoor playground that served the area’s families for years.
Now in 2018 I find myself in a similar situation: my twins are leaving 5th grade from a wonderful elementary school, but shockingly, the only public middle school in our beautiful Delray Beach is the chronically low-achieving Carver Middle School. Four years ago, my eldest son was in 5th grade and I planned to have his elementary IB education continue at our “home school,” Carver. I had hoped its poor reputation was an exaggeration, so I myself taught there as the 8th grade International Baccalaureate (IB) English teacher and team leader to observe it “from the inside.” Unfortunately, the problems with administration, staff, and the facility were as bad as or worse than their reputation. I left the school after that year, sent my son as a 6th grader to the K-8 charter school, and I returned to teaching high school.
While I believe in assessment, the bulk of time and resources spent on standardized testing and preparation in the public schools is unfathomable. While I believe in high standards, the amount of homework some children receive is inhumane. While I believe in learning core academics, losing physical education and the arts to pile on more math and reading (the “tested” subjects) is counterintuitive. And while I believe in good use of time, the fact that middle school students rarely attend academic field trips and have less than 30 minutes to eat lunch with no playful recess is wrong. I am a product of public education, have taught in the system for 25 years, and believed that my own children would attend public schools. But my frustration with public education—the loss of focus on what’s important, the obsession with testing, the bloat of unnecessary school and district positions and wasted resources—has made me desperate. Thus, I created a place that I believe will provide local young adolescents an unforgettable, meaningful middle school experience.
Suzanne Borda, Ed.S.
Head of School, Delray Beach Middle School