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Black Rock Middle School’s opening next year will continue the district’s illustrious history and traditions while providing students and faculty with new opportunities

Graphic by Kayla Bogui ’23

In September 2022, the new middle school, recently named Black Rock Middle School, will open its doors to students living in Penn Wynne and Gladwyne. The middle school’s name was voted and chosen by staff, administrators, and other community members. On the LMSD website, they explain how the name was decided on because of “its connection to the distinctive serpentine formation of black rocks in the area, which were noted by the indigenous Lenni Lenape in what is now Lower Merion Township.”

Before Superintendent Copeland retired, he named Sarah Stout—current principal of Bala Cynwyd Middle School—future principal of Black Rock Middle School. Stout has also previously served as Assistant Principal of Welsh Valley Middle School, administrator at Hatboro Horsham School District, and a social studies teacher at a Cheltenham middle school. Until a successor is found for Stout, she will remain the principal of BCMS.

Black Rock’s architectural setup encourages an open environment. Featured in the architecture of the school’s digital illustration, there is a main entrance which is close to public areas such as the gymnasium and auditorium. “The school will also feature a ‘heart’ area, where students can congregate to socialize and collaborate. And traditional single classrooms will be replaced by ‘learning communities,’ which are flexible spaces that can be used for large-group team teaching, small group instruction or student collaboration,” says Amy Buckman, Director of School and Community Relations. The process of building the school has come along very smoothly, with the construction being below budget and on time.

Black Rock and the rest of the LMSD middle schools will transition to serving fifth through eighth grade students, unlike the current sixth to eighth grade model. The new middle school leadership and staff is working to create a safe and welcoming school environment for every student. The structure of the new school allows for individual learning communities to grow and the educational programs and activities will be different within the grade levels.

Penn Wynne Elementary School and Gladwyne Elementary School will feed into the new middle school because, according to the LMSD website, Black Rock “is in the catchment for GES, so it will be the closest school for those students. All PWES students are already bused to middle school so busing to the new school will not be a major change. The other four elementary schools have students in the walk zones for BCMS or WVMS. It is most efficient to avoid busing students to a farther school when they could walk to a closer one.” Additionally, the website explains that studies have shown that long commutes for students on the bus increases socializing, relaxation, and more. As for the sports fields at Black Rock, there will be off-site fields, but they will most likely not be ready in time for opening. In the meantime, the new middle school will use other locations, such as other LMSD schools, in order to conduct sports practices.  

After the tragic loss of LM’s principal, Sean Hughes, a petition on Change.org was created to rename the new middle school “Sean Hughes Memorial Middle School” in honor of his dedication and hard work to make LMSD a better place. However, district policy explicitly prohibits naming buildings after people. According to Buckman, the school board and administration will “work with the Hughes family and with students to create an appropriate way to memorialize Mr. Hughes as the dedicated high-school educator … he was.”

A mascot was recently chosen to represent the school by Mrs. Stout along with a group of student ambassadors. According to Black Rock’s most recent newsletter, they decided upon the Royals, the school colors being black and gold with purple accents. The students said the nickname reflects qualities including strength, being welcoming to all, being smart, and being spectacular. They also liked that their mascot goes well thematically with the Bala Cynwyd Knights and the Welsh Valley Dragons. Mrs. Stout will soon begin work with a designer to create the official Royals logo, after which items such as athletic uniforms and school gear can be ordered.

Featured in a video tour of the school on the LMSD website, student ambassadors reveal their excitement to attend Black Rock, as the tour of the building has exceeded their expectations. Multiple students explained how they liked the small “nests” or rooms that bump out of the sides of the building. These spaces will be used for collaborating on projects. One student in the video is looking forward to all of the books in the two story library. The recent newsletter goes more in-depth on the “‘gathering stairs,’ dining hall, courtyard, auditorium, library and gymnasium spaces, and the flexible ‘learning communities,’ where teams of students can gather in large labs and classrooms.”

The recruitment for teachers at Black Rock has been ongoing. The school states that “Human Resources is keeping ‘an eye toward increasing diversity among all the schools’ excellent staff, so that every student sees adults in their building with whom they can identify. This is a complex process, but all of the principals and district administrators are committed to working
together to create the best outcome for students.”

As far as scheduling goes, “The 5-8 Committee has been reviewing several options for middle school schedules, which may be different for the ‘Lower House’ (grades 5/6) and the ‘Upper House’ (grades 7/8).” In addition, students will have the option of taking Spanish, French, or Latin starting in 5th grade. Black Rock explains how this will cause students to “end up with more minutes of world language instruction by the end of 8th grade than they have under the current program.” This will allow for students to begin at Level 3 of their language at the start of high school. In the news and announcements on the LMSD website, it explains how the “FLES program (where students are only getting one period of language per week) will be discontinued in grades 1-3 in favor of an exploratory language year in Grade 4, where students will be exposed to Latin, French and Spanish.” 

Due to issues involving rites of passages from the combination of fifth through eighth grade students, unlike the present sixth to eighth grade model, Black Rock assures parents and students that “Both the K-4 and 5-8 committees have subcommittees that are working on how rites of passage such as promotion ceremonies, traditional 5th-grade activities and end-of-year celebrations, will change.” Additionally, “Some events/activities may move with 5th graders to middle school and some may become 4th grade activities, depending on what is developmentally appropriate.”

In the fall of 2022, Black Rock Middle school will welcome in their first class of students, many of whom will eventually attend LMHS.

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