An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Julie Lutton, 5-12 personal development and wellness department head

Lakeside’s personal development department is privileged to teach Middle School students about a topic that they are naturally interested in: themselves and each other! For families new to Lakeside, the term “personal development” can be a bit mystifying. But the goal of our personal development classes is relatively simple: to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and self-awareness to take care of themselves and others, in middle school and beyond. Our courses are focused on identity development: both understanding the complexities of your own identity, and how to interact with the identities of others. We help students consider what role they want to have in the communities in which they are a part.

One important area we address in our curriculum is relationship skills. Relationships — friendships, romantic relationships, sexual relationships, relationships with parents and guardians, and relationships with teachers — are complex, and learning how to navigate them is a lifelong process. Here’s what we’ve covered about relationships so far this year:  

  • In 5th grade, the year begins with a focus on friendship, getting to know one another, building community, and finding belonging. Students do a class “bingo” to learn about one another, reflect on questions about friendships, and work through scenarios that help them think about how to include others. Students are currently working through a unit about feelings: how to recognize feelings, how they show up in ourselves and in others, and strategies for managing our feelings. This work on feelings is essential to helping students successfully navigate their relationships in informed and self-empowered ways.
  • In 6th grade, students begin the year with a unit on identity. Students delve deeply into their own identities through multiple mediums: writing poetry; putting photos together that represent their identities; interviewing an adult at home about identity; and creating an identity iceberg to consider the seen and unseen aspects of their identities. (Families were mailed a version of that identity iceberg from the PGA, earlier this school year.) Knowing oneself well, and considering how others may be different from us, is an important aspect of authentic relationship-building.

    Students are now focusing on a unit on communication, listening, and friendship. They have explored how we communicate; body language; how culture impacts communication; empathetic listening skills; and assertive communication skills. Most recently, students have been discussing scenarios related to setting and enforcing boundaries and how to empathetically receive feedback when we have violated someone’s boundaries. These communication skills are building blocks for helping students navigate relationships, especially complex relationships such as romantic and sexual relationships they may encounter later in life. In the spring, students will learn about puberty and human sexuality. Having accurate information about their bodies and sexual development empowers students to make choices that are healthy and safe for them. Families will be notified via email before we begin this unit on puberty and sexuality.
  • In 7th grade, students began the year by exploring their values. Examining the places in which they agreed and disagreed with classmates gave students opportunities to consider how to define their own values, stand up for those values, and thoughtfully engage with others who may not agree with them. The unit also included an opportunity to interview an adult at home about family values and consider how those family values have impacted them. In an identity unit, 7th graders explored power, privilege, equity, and equality, and how each of these concepts show up in their lives and in the world around them. Students also considered circles of community, and how they can expand their concern for others. Most recently, students have been writing and performing spoken word pieces about their identities for their class communities. These two units have allowed students to deeply consider not only how they see themselves, but also how their personal values and identities show up in their communities and in their relationships.
  • The 8th-grade personal development course begins with a unit on bias and a screening of “The danger of a single story,” a powerful TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Students explore how they can counter conscious and unconscious bias, and how they can “call out” and “call in” others when they encounter bias. Students learn how to identify biased language and actions, and how to use affirmations to build others up. The skills of navigating difference, bias, and prejudice are essential for students as they navigate the diverse community of Lakeside and of our global society. In October, 8th graders explored mental and emotional health, including lessons on addressing stigma, empathy and sympathy, and deep listening skills. Caring for one’s own mental health is a vital skill from which to build healthy relationships in middle school, high school, and beyond. Most recently, students have been exploring leadership and advocacy, and considering their own styles of leadership and participating in groups. They have had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers on leadership, which has allowed them to consider how leaders cultivate and care for relationships of many types.

This is just a brief snapshot of one topic (relationships) in a rich and constantly evolving curriculum. If you want to learn more, I’ll be participating in the January Middle School webinar with administrators on Jan. 19. You are also welcome to contact your student’s personal development teacher at any time with questions — all of our information can be found in the Veracross online directory.

Julie Lutton, MA, LMHC, is Lakeside’s 5-12 personal development and wellness department head.