This fall, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Ranney School in Tinton Falls will be studying more than algebra, world history, and literature—they will be learning about values and conflict resolution. A new Middle School program called G.R.I.T. is bringing character education to the classroom. Standing for Guided expectations, Respectful communication, Identifying solutions, and Transferring solutions to the community, the G.R.I.T. approach will engage students, advisors, and faculty members in setting appropriate community standards for respectful communication and constructive problem solving while teaching students skills they will need for high school and beyond.
“All Middle Schools are searching for ways to effectively have conversations around character development and leadership,” says Ranney Middle School Division Head Matt Hall. “The challenge is that no single program can work across all schools, so to best create one for the Ranney community, we decided to design one from scratch.”
By integrating character education into the curriculum, G.R.I.T. aims to enrich student-teacher relationships—a hallmark of independent schools like Ranney—and classroom management. Each month, Middle School advisory groups will focus on a theme, such as communication, friendship, tolerance, accountability, trust, or respect. Using faculty-directed questions, students will discuss the themes in small groups during their 25-minute daily advisory periods before diving deeper into the themes through role play and case studies. The program is meant to be non-judgmental and non-disciplinary. At the end of each month, advisory groups will have the opportunity to share what they learned—as well as any proposed strategies or solutions they developed—with the entire Middle School community at its Town Hall gatherings. The second, or follow-through, component of the program involves how students then act within the community with their peers and teachers.
“Our faculty is very excited about implementing character education this fall. Not only will teachers have a universal language for interacting with students on common topics that affect this unique age group, but our students will have an opportunity to add to the conversation and to take more ownership of their classroom experience. Our goal is that they will gain a sense of personal leadership while also learning to effectively communicate and collaborate in small groups as well as larger communities.”
In the past, says Hall, morning advisory periods were largely treated as study halls. “By creating a dialogue around the guided expectations for our community, students will now be able to use this time to have a hand in further shaping Middle School culture,” he adds.
Parents will be advised of the monthly themes and encouraged to continue conversations about these important topics at home.
“Success in a strong academic Upper School or High School requires a certain level of autonomy and an ability to effectively communicate,” says Hall. “The skills that we’re trying to teach through G.R.I.T. will develop these skills, which are also essential for higher education.”