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Forming the Future: Msgr. Haddad Middle School exploratory week

By Mark Labbe Pilot Staff
Posted: 3/16/2018

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Seventh-grade students at Msgr. Haddad Middle School in Needham are pictured during their exploratory week trip to Gettysburg last year. Pilot photo/courtesy Msgr. Haddad Middle School


NEEDHAM -- History, art, religion, science -- these are a handful of the subjects that students at Msgr. Haddad Middle School in Needham not only learn about in the classroom, but also experience firsthand during the school's "exploratory week" program.

Educating around 140 students in grades 6 through 8, Msgr. Haddad Middle School offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities, specialty classes and state-of-the-art technology. But, among its many programs, one the school is most proud of is its exploratory week, a week in May where each grade goes on separate, extended field trips.

The exploratory week program was initiated a number of years ago, said principal James MacDonald, March 12, as a way for 8th-grade students to experience "a typical 8th-grade opportunity" -- a trip to Washington, DC.

The program grew, and incorporated grades six and seven, as well. Currently, during the same week, the school has 8th-grade students spend five days in Washington, D.C., the 7th grade visit Philadelphia and Gettysburg, and the 6th grade take several day trips to Boston.

MacDonald, in his second year as principal of the school, said over the years, the school "has really perfected the experience for the kids, both as a social opportunity for kids to get to know each other during the trip, as well as an academic one."

Bridgid Coyle teaches 6th and 8th-grade social studies at the school, and leads the 8th grade trip to Washington. During the trip, she said, students visit a number of historic sites, including the White House, Mount Vernon, and the Capitol Building, several museums, and even participate in a "Moonlight Dance Cruise."

Students also have the opportunity to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington National Cemetery.

"We call it a walking classroom," Coyle said of the trip. "One minute, you could be in the place where Thomas Jefferson made an important speech, and an hour later you could be at the Vietnam Wall Memorial."

During the 7th grade trip to Philadelphia and Gettysburg, students see firsthand the places they learned about in their social studies classes, said Emily Spence, organizer of the trip and a social studies and music teacher.

One of the highlights of the trip is a tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg. Students are able to "see where the battle happened," said Spence. When they return back to Needham, students are tasked with recreating the battle, getting to dress up like Civil War soldiers and act out the battle.

James Julian, an 8th-grade student, remembered reenacting the battle last year. He acted as a Confederate soldier, who "just died right away," he said.

His time in Philadelphia helped him to "get a better idea of what happened in history, so I was able to feel the way people felt like," Julian said.

During the 6th grade trip, students go on day trips to Boston. The first day, said Michael Kiessling, religion teacher and organizer of the trip, students go to the Museum of Fine Arts, which connects to their social studies and religion classes. They visit the Museum of Science on the second day, which connects to their science classes, said Kiessling. The last day is a fun day, where students take part in cooperative games, climb rock walls, and bounce on trampolines at various places in Boston.

"So, a little bit of curriculum things and social building activities," he said.

The exploratory week at Msgr. Haddad Middle School, which principal MacDonald noted is the "only standalone middle school in the archdiocese," really "enhances the learning experience here."

"Both students and parents have always spoken very highly about what these programs provide in terms of a well-rounded education," he said.