Educational Systems: Middle Schools

Viewing middle school through the lens of positive youth development reveals the disconnect between what we know about youth and the ways schooling is designed and delivered. The confluence of new knowledge on youth assets with the shortcomings of middle school education in the U.S. suggests this is the time for redesign, innovation, and evaluation of new models. Youth-Nex seeks to transform middle schools into developmentally-informed settings that provide supportive relationships and learning contexts which foster the capacity of early adolescents.

Early in Youth-Nex's development, we saw a need to examine developmental issues of early adolescence, the intersection with educational programming, and best methods to promote effective youth development. To do so we explored the context of middle school in the event titled, "In Between: Middle Schools as Centers for Positive Youth Development." The 2012 conference brought together leaders from across the country including scholars, practitioners, and policy professionals to focus on the future of middle schools in the context of Positive Youth Development. 'We had unprecedented focus on middle school youth as capable and middle schools as the center of approaching their development from this view, said Director Patrick Tolan. We had leadership in education at national and state levels, leading advocates and scholars, and local practitioners in a vigorous and productive discussion. We are excited about what this can mean for youth and for the Youth-Nex center's mission.' We tried to foster a multidimensional understanding of critical elements promoting positive youth development specifically in middle schools, including physical and mental health, engaged citizenship, and beneficial relationships. Mrs. Alma Powell, of America’s Promise Alliance (pictured below with Patrick Tolan), gave the keynote address. Dr. Jacquelynne Eccles, a leading scholar in this topic provided opening remarks.












Interactive e-book on the conference:









Conference Agenda and Video of Presentations

Thursday, October 18

9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

Plenary Presentations - VIDEO
Patrick H. Tolan - Director of Youth-Nex, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia — SLIDES
Alma J. Powell - Chair, America’s Promise Alliance
Jacquelynne S. Eccles - McKeachie-Pintrich Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Education, University of Michigan — SLIDES

10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
Panel 1 - Innovative Training and Science for Middle School Education — VIDEO

Deans of major colleges of education offered their views about key issues in middle school education. (pictured: Jane Close Conoley, Randy W. Kamphaus, Lynn Okagaki) How should university training of future educators and educational leaders best address these relevant issues?

Patrick H. Tolan (Panel Chair), Director of Youth-Nex, Professor, Curry School of Education and Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia
Jane Close Conoley, University of California, Santa Barbara, Dean and Professor, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education — SLIDES
Randy W. Kamphaus, Georgia State University, Dean of the College of Education and Distinguished Research Professor, Counseling and Psychological Services  (No slides were used.)
Lynn Okagaki, University of Delaware, Dean, College of Education and Human Development SLIDES

1:15 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Panel 2 - Developmentally Informing Curricula and Teaching VIDEO
How can we optimally incorporate the developmental transitions of early adolescence into curricula and teaching to best suit student needs and educational achievement? This panel included presentations on the neurodevelopmental transition in early adolescence, key curriculum design concerns for middle school, and promising innovations during this critical time for youth.

Stephanie van Hover (Panel Chair), Associate Professor, Social Studies Education, University of Virginia
Vincent A. Anfara, Jr., Professor and Department Head of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, The University of Tennessee - Knoxville SLIDES
Penny Bishop, Professor of Middle Level Education, University of Vermont SLIDES
Jay Giedd, Chief of Brain Imaging, Child Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) SLIDES

3:15 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.
Panel 3 - Students and Peers as Resources — VIDEO
Most research on students and peers has looked at how to minimize peer detraction from learning. This panel took a different approach—viewing the emerging importance of peer groups in early adolescence as an opportunity for expanding resources for education and engagement of students.

Nancy L. Deutsch (Panel Chair) Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Foundations, University of Virginia
Philip M. Brown, Fellow, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University SLIDES
Michael J. Karcher, Professor of Counseling, University of Texas at San Antonio SLIDES
Clea McNeely, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health and the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence, The University of Tennessee - Knoxville SLIDES
Linda Scott, Director of High School Curriculum and Instruction, Chesapeake Public Schools, Chesapeake, Virginia SLIDES

Friday, October 19
9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Panel 4 - Partnership of Parents and Schools for Better Middle Schools — VIDEO
There is little disagreement that throughout student development, the partnership of parents and schools is important for optimal education. This panel focused on how to minimize the disconnect that often occurs between parents and middle schools to maximize benefits for learning.

Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman (Panel Chair), Associate Professor, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia SLIDES
Nancy E. Hill, Professor, Harvard University SLIDES
Charles Smith, Executive Director and VP for Research, The Forum for Youth Investment SLIDES
Otha Thornton, President Elect, National PTA SLIDES

10:45 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Panel 5 - Connecting Community and School for Effective Youth Development — VIDEO
There is a vast discrepancy in schools’ connection to community.  Some schools are very engaged in the neighborhoods and communities in which they are located, while others are not. How can we best keep schools connected to communities during the important middle school years?

Noelle M. Hurd (Panel Chair), Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
L. Bernard Hairston, Executive Director of Community Engagement for Albemarle County Public Schools, Charlottesville, Virginia SLIDES
R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies, City College of New York – CUNY SLIDES
Milbrey McLaughlin, David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy, Director, The John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, Stanford University SLIDES
Bill Milliken, Founder and Vice Chairman, Communities In Schools SLIDES

1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Panel 6 - Making Middle Schools Centers for Positive Youth Development — VIDEO
This panel kicked off the final discussion of the conference’s two-day dialogue. Panelists suggested directions for research, practice, and policy to help promote
middle schools as centers for positive youth development.

Patrick H. Tolan (Panel Chair), Director of Youth-Nex, Professor, Curry School of Education and Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia — SLIDES
Deborah Kasak, Executive Director, National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform SLIDES
Joseph L. Mahoney, Professor, Department of Education, University of California - Irvine SLIDES
Michael K. Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) (No slides were used.)

Additional Content

Washington Post OP ED by Patrick Tolan

UVA Today Article


E-Book Summarizing Panels: