Middle School Course of Study

As at every level, MSR seeks to remove the artificial barriers that tend to separate “school work” from its authentic context — life!

So while your student masters all the traditional subjects through our interdisciplinary curriculum at MSR, he also applies his academic learning through real-world projects (by nature interdisciplinary, personal, and interpersonal as life experience teaches us), so that every school day helps him grow his intellect, develop his humanity, and strengthen his sense of autonomy.

Take, for instance, our students’ yearlong “Architecture as Activism” project, and imagine your student taking part: researching, designing, and presenting plans for the development of a real school — in this case, MSR’s innovative new Upper School. With his full imagination and interest engaged, he strengthens his conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills through applying his expanding knowledge: creating scaled blueprints for a geometrically sound structure (math); designing sustainable, green buildings with the latest technology for energy and water conservation (science); and researching, drafting proposals, planning relevant site visits, and presenting plans to the Board of Trustees (English).

But learning isn’t limited to the usual academic subject areas. Consider just a few of the supra-academic skillsets your student develops in this single project. He connects with and consults experts, exercising personal initiative and self-confidence. He confidently and persuasively presents his ideas to a group of influential decision-makers, practicing self-expression, -presentation, and again -confidence. He builds and balances a budget, employing self-discipline, organization, and prioritization. He applies design thinking to creative problem-solving. He figures out where he can best contribute to the team and how to work together on, plan for, and commit to a complex, long-term project, gaining self-awareness and practicing collaboration, planning, and persistence. He balances competing needs and desires within the community and reconciles them with his own values, preferences, and ideas, developing empathy and skills in diplomacy and conflict resolution.

In other words, at MSR, your student begins to master in middle school the crucial-to-happiness life skills that so many young people authentically encounter for the first time post-college. And he gains this experience in ways that fully integrate with and strengthen his academic studies.
Through Intersessions, Occupations, Marketplace, Community Service, and other opportunities for learning beyond the classroom, your student develops essential life skills, building competence and confidence (not to mention his résumé!) in preparation for his next experiences in high school and beyond. These distinctive aspects of our program — deeply integrated with academic learning in traditional subject areas — exemplify the Third Plane principles of the Montessori approach.


Twice a year the regular curriculum pauses for Intersession, a one-week period when students — accompanied by MSR teachers, staff members, and sometimes outside experts or parents — participate in full-immersion, interdisciplinary studies. Through Intersessions your student can fully submerse herself in an area of interest outside of the typical academic studies and encounter new experiences, places, people, and ideas that spark what often become lifelong passions. Some are offered year after year, while others are newly designed to meet students’ unique interests.

A sampling of Intersession projects undertaken in recent years:

  • Trailbuilding – Improve the wooded area around our school by building pathways and outdoor education stations, learning about trail maintenance, mapping, drainage, and the ecosystem.
  • Film! – Unlock the secrets of movie-making by writing, filming, editing, creating special effects, and ultimately producing their own short films.
  • The History and Science of Bookmaking – Learn about the art of mini-comics, calligraphy, rubber-stamping, book binding — even the science of spitballs! — in a fun-filled week of paper and book making.
  • Rockets! – Apply math and physics concepts (algebra, geometry, energy, velocity, acceleration, and Newton’s Laws) to the design and building of rockets, including day trips to the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the Reedy Creek Observatory at NCSU.
  • Song to Stage – Write original songs, develop vocal techniques, and prepare for a culminating performance on stage with visiting teacher/musician Charles Pettee, guitarist, singer, and mandolin player who has performed in over 5000 shows throughout the world!


Through our Occupations program, MSR initiates your middle school student to the world of adult work in ways that are meaningful and fun, physically, emotionally, and intellectually challenging, valued in the wider community, economically viable, and environmentally and ethically sustainable. She might work as a beekeeper, bookkeeper, or photographer. She might make clay pots, care for the chicken coop, build robots, repair bicycles, or run a sports clinic.
In Marketplace, she takes Occupations to the next level. She sells her wares — including eggs, herbs, homemade pottery, jewelry, and quilts — to the local community at Midtown Farmers’ Market as well as our Fall Festival and other MSR community events. Through these experiences, she predicts sales patterns, practices tracking revenue and expenses, and determines how to reinvest in her business and ensure repeat customers. She gains valuable insight into the world of entrepreneurial work, applying her in-school theoretical learning to real-world situations and, conversely, discovering new motivations to fuel her academic inquiries.


In addition to serving within our school community, students complete 25 hours of service each year, a requirement more typical of a high school program. (MSR implements a gradually increasing requirement through Upper School.) This work doesn’t merely signal the high value MSR places on service to the community, it plays a valuable role in your student’s budding sense of self at this age, his sense of responsibility, generosity, and empathy. He volunteers in structured ways — feeding the hungry at a local soup kitchen, helping beautify local parks and playgrounds at the beginning of each school year, visiting local retirement communities to share good company and cheer with the elderly. And through these acts of service, MSR helps him to forge new connections between his unfolding talents and interests and his maturing self and social consciousness. The Passion Project makes this intention explicit, urging every student to undertake a project of his own design — assisting at an art studio, harvesting and delivering produce for a local farm, organizing a charity ice skating exhibition, building and populating new beehives, or other self-constructed commitment to community.