The Junior High at Sunny Hollow provides a challenging and rewarding environment for young adolescents. Students are challenged academically, find their voices and explore their roles in community, and find belonging and a strong sense of themselves and how they fit in the world. Students engage in an interdisciplinary curriculum that seeks to solve meaningful problems and develops logical reasoning, research skills, and higher-order thinking skills.
Based on the specific needs and gifts of adolescents, the Sunny Hollow Junior High includes these critical elements:
The Junior High is one community that has several different classroom spaces and all classes are mixed-ages (grades 7 and 8). The school day is 8:30 to 3:30; before and after care is available from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.
The Junior High educational syllabus meets or exceeds Minnesota State Standards for 7th and 8th graders. Because there is no learning without engagement, our educational syllabus will be flexible to follow and cultivate the interests of students and capitalize on the strengths of our guides. Junior High academics are set up in a two-year cycle in mixed-age classes, so all students will get all areas of study within their two years.
The academic emphasis is not on “coverage” but on redo/review/revise in order to understand. The educational syllabus expects the best of adolescents and is difficult on purpose, so that students have an easier academic transition to high school.
Mathematics: Students study arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and measurement and apply their understanding of theoretical relationships in real-world projects, such as microeconomy, science, and occupations work. The Montessori adolescent mathematics curriculum is closely aligned with that advocated by the American Association of the Advancement of Science and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Over a period of two years, students work through curriculum with guidance to accommodate their pace and level, working toward mastery. Weekly math seminars encourage verbalization of math, exploration of problem-solving methods, and shared inquiry into solving challenging problems. Students will have the opportunity in this program to move through Pre- Algebra, Algebra I, and Geometry in an integrated way. They will also study the history of mathematics to deepen their understanding of inventions, innovations, and the development of the mathematical mind over time.
Science: The Study of Earth and Living Things. Students study science through a combination of specific concepts in labs and applied work with occupations. They study the nature of science and engineering, physical science, earth science, and life science not as discrete entities but woven together as they apply to the topics or issues they are interested in. Students develop an appreciation and understanding of the close inter-relationships between the sciences, technology, people, society, and the environment. They develop the skills necessary to use science and open-ended inquiry as tools for analyzing and responding to other issues that might arise in their lives.
Students study zoology, human anatomy, botany, environmental studies, and biology within interdisciplinary, hands-on occupations.
Humanities: History/Social Studies/Geography. The goal of the Humanities curriculum is to facilitate a deep understanding of the adolescent’s place in history, what came before and what the future may hold as the adolescent plays their part. Geography, economics, and citizenship are integrated into these studies as called for by Minnesota State Standards, with a particular focus on global studies and the United States over the last 200 years.
Students explore history through four themes: early human culture, classical societies, societies in transition, and age of science and ideas. We combine these historical studies with the related disciplines of geography, political science, and economics, as well as interweaving cultural studies and fine arts.
Humanities: Language Arts. The role of language in society is to communicate complex ideas, feelings, and knowledge. It is an intellectual, creative, and social process that is woven into the fabric of everyday life and is critically important to social and moral development. Each week, students engage in Writer’s Workshops to receive group and one-on-one lessons related to grammatical conventions, vocabulary, and forms of writing while also having ample independent time to write and practice their skills. Other days, Language Arts focuses on literature by offering lessons and literature circles. Students explore novels through introductory lessons, student-led literary seminars, essays, and factual quizzes. At least once a year, the guide assists students in writing, producing, designing, and acting out a play.
World Language. Students have a choice of studying either Mandarin or Spanish led by contracted language specialists. Students will learn spoken and written language and will explore the cultures, history, poetry, and art of their chosen language. Students integrate their language studies into other interdisciplinary activities as well.
Occupations. Occupations are project-based experiences tied to the community—the Junior High, the school, Highland Park, St. Paul, and Minnesota. Occupations require specific knowledge and tools while completing concrete tasks. They offer opportunities for students and guides to work side-by-side as the work is too big to do on their own. Occupations are at the core of Montessori adolescent education and provide the hands-on engagement to activate practical learning. Examples include food preparation, maintenance projects, and community service.
Microeconomy. Moral education for the adolescent is connected to the efforts of the student to achieve economic independence. There is a sense of dignity that emerges from producing something of value through meaningful work. Offering students the ability to explore production and exchange through adult work in a prepared environment gives them the laboratory in which to develop morally, experience valorization (a realization of self-worth), as well as gain social and economic independence. This includes entrepreneurial experience, manager positions/student leadership, and student-run businesses. All students participate in an entrepreneurial venture, business meetings, record keeping, discussion of profit/loss, and marketing strategy/initiatives.
Community Work and Service through Community Partnerships. The Junior High’s unique model of community partnerships facilitates student learning, connects students to their communities, and engages students in service-learning opportunities. We connect with local organizations to find natural extensions of curriculum (e.g. interviewing elders about war time experiences) or apply what we’ve learned to benefit the community (e.g. sponsoring a citizenship swearing-in ceremony at Sunny Hollow). Student integrate communication skills through writing letters, placing advocacy phone calls, researching the web and print materials with a critical eye for real content, and creating surveys and petitions. Students may also learn a discipline or craft through mentorship from a partner organization.
Students who participate in service learning show improvements in academic achievement, career preparation, feelings of self-efficacy, behavior, and civic engagement. Community partners receive much needed help and will also find themselves learning from the students through these interactions.
Community Meetings. Students meet regularly to do the work of building their community and valuing each other’s presence and roles within the community. They share compliments, plan projects, and do whole-group problem solving. Sunny Hollow’s Junior High is “small on purpose”: Big enough so that there are opportunities for a variety of peers and experiences, but small enough that students cannot hide from their problems or from people; they must learn how to constructively resolve conflict and work with those who aren’t their best friends.
Ambitious Experiential Trips (Odysseys). Two trips each year provide a purposeful engagement in deep community living. Students and guides take trips together in which the students contribute to the planning and are given meaningful work in practical life skills concerning comfort and order (setting up tents, cooking meals for the group, and so on).
Student-Led Conferences. For parent conferences in the fall and spring, students lead the conferences. They reflect on their progress, strengths, and challenges in skill development, academics, community leadership, and other areas of learning and engagement, then invite guides to share their observations. In advance, guides provide structures and support to help students be well prepared for their conferences. Students will gain confidence in their communication skills and strengthen their abilities to reflect honestly and positively on themselves as students and community members.