If you have a daughter, you have to admit it: the idea of a girls-only middle school with small classes and a challenging — but flexible — curriculum has massive appeal. In this area, we have such an option: Campus Middle School for Girls (1203 W. Green St., Urbana).
As you may know, I’m a CMS teacher. I love my job, and when Executive Director Carmelita Nussbaum told me that CMS was sponsoring a ChambanaMoms article ahead of our first informational meeting, I jumped at the chance to write it. (The information meetings, geared towards prospective families, will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, and Saturday, March 3 at the school.)
We decided to get the girls in on the project. We wanted to know their thoughts about what makes our school unique and wonderful, and this Top 5 list is based on their ideas.
Before we get to that, here are the basics: Campus Middle School for Girls is a private, non-profit, girls-only middle school. Class sizes are capped at 15 students per grade.
Some of my students wanted me to stress that CMS has no religious affiliation — apparently they feel that this corrects a common misconception.
Without further ado, here are the top 5 things our girls like about CMS:
5. Individual attention from the teacher.
Sixth-grader Mei Lien Crandall says this about access to her CMS instructors: “I like having more individual time with the teacher while I do my work. … I have the opportunity to ask them questions about assignments without having to worry about other students not getting the information they need.” Fellow sixth-grader Yasmin Projansky Ono adds, “Since the school is smaller, almost every question is answered.”
4. Deep, meaningful class discussions.
At CMS, conversations that get “off topic” are practically a part of the curriculum. A concept taught in one classroom is not meant to stay there but to mix and mingle with ideas learned elsewhere, and conversations expand to include the real-world applications of our lessons.
3. More — but not too much — freedom.
Of her autonomy as a student, seventh-grader Jane Liao says: “During class we can actually get up and do what we need to do — just not when the teacher’s talking.”
Although there is no specific rule about when to get up and when to stay put, students generally respect teachers’ wishes about classroom behavior, and teachers likewise (generally) allot the girls a good amount of freedom.
“We can learn a lot but still have fun doing it,” says sixth-grader Lucy Baright.
Speaking of freedom, CMS is located on the edge of the University of Illinois campus, and classes are able to take field trips to any of the university’s public buildings. Both of my history classes have walked to Spurlock Museum twice this year, and more trips are planned for second semester.
2. Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum.
To a great extent, the freedom mentioned above also extends to our curriculum. We encourage students to ask their own questions and to use creativity in finding the answers.
Some may consider this the most important thing to know about Campus Middle School for Girls: we don’t do standardized tests. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a CMS student who doesn’t find her school work challenging, but our end goal is to prepare our girls to be lifelong learners, and that’s where our curriculum begins and ends.
1. Classmates bond and become life-long friends.
Middle school is a notoriously rocky time for social relationships, but many CMS students find that their unique learning environment makes it possible to transcend a lot of typical preteen issues.
Yasmin Projansky Ono acknowledges that at times CMS students can get on one another’s nerves, but sums up their relationships like this: “We love each other, we rely on each other, we praise each other. … At CMS, we actually become family.”
Rachael McMillan just took part-time job number 5,482: teaching sixth- and seventh-grade history at Campus Middle School for girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, kindergartner Kate and first-grader Jack.