Introducing University School’s new head of Middle School, Elaine Griffin.
Elaine Griffin’s experience as a middle school student will likely sound similar to many: “Looking back, I think I survived middle school rather than thrived in middle school,” she said. But Griffin is quick to point out that USM’s Middle School is different. “When you look at the work that the Middle School faculty has done and is doing, you see how engaged the students are, and you see that they really are thriving.”
Griffin became USM’s head of Middle School on July 1, succeeding long-time Middle School teacher and administrator Pamela Nosbusch, who retired in June. But Griffin is no novice to USM, having worked in teaching and administrative roles in the Upper School (most recently as assistant head of Upper School), as well as working closely with Middle School faculty members, for 20 years. “It was a huge bonus for me that the [Middle School head] opportunity opened up here at USM, because the school has mentored me into the teacher and administrator that I am.”
For Griffin, the middle school years are an ideal time to expose students to a variety of topics, experiences, and ideas. “Kids in Middle School are still willing to try something even if they don’t think they’re good at it. They’re not worried about their college applications yet, so it’s a low-stakes environment and they can take greater risks. In addition, the kind of project-based teaching that Middle School teachers do fosters resilience and teaches problem solving.”
At the same time, Griffin notes, the teachers make learning fun. “I think it’s a bit more embedded within the culture at USM that yes, Middle School children should learn and be responsible, but the work should also be fun, and I think that’s the magic of those teachers in Middle School. There’s a balance of serious learning and laughter that I’m really excited to be a part of.”
Griffin has some advice for her middle-school self. “I wish I had been the person who tried out for the play or who made the speech. I understand now that my point of view was just as valuable as anybody else’s. I want to develop a culture among Middle School students of, ‘Hey, why not me? Why shouldn’t I go for it?’ That’s how I want them to be in Middle School, and that’s how I want them to go through life.”