Thematic Interdisciplinary Curriculum at Laguna Blanca's Middle School Values Student Learning

Noozhawk Education Feature

Laguna uses innovative teaching methods and programs in its pre-kindergarten to 12th grade classes. Its Middle School curriculum is designed around themes to help students connect different content areas, offering a holistic educational experience.

“First and foremost, our goal is for students to take ownership of their learning and find purpose in the process,” says Shane Lopes, head of the Middle School at Laguna Blanca. Laguna’s standards help students to develop essential skills and bridge the transition between each level of school:
  • Lower School includes Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 4
  • Middle School includes Grades 5 to 8
  • Upper School includes Grades 9 to 12

Middle School Themes
The curriculum offers hands-on experiences with field trips, projects, and themes. Curriculum development revolves around an anchor theme for each quarter, with four major themes covered in multiple classes throughout the school year.

“Interdisciplinary design of curriculum with themes increases the likelihood for a greater depth in learning, as well as sticky learning moments, where concepts can be retained and skills can be effectively developed as they are reinforced in multiple courses by various teachers and with real-world applications,” Lopes says.

For example, in Grade 7, the quarter one theme is belonging. Its essential questions include, “Who am I? What is my family journey to Santa Barbara? What do I bring to this community? Why does my journey to this point matter?” The signature project for the semester is a collaborative art piece that involves each student contributing a leaf to a giant tree displayed in the Middle School.

Laguna’s interdisciplinary design means that students connect their experiences across subjects.

“In English, students read ‘The Circuit,’ a story of immigration, and use it as inspiration to interview a grandparent or equivalent,” Lopes says. “In Latin, students investigate their language origins and make the connection between Latin and the Romance languages, whilst also presenting a family tree in Latin. In geography, students will map the journey of their family to here.”

Students in Grades 6-8 enjoy four semester-long elective classes per year ranging from Science of Food, Marine Science, Robotics, and Engineering to Debate, Media Production, Writer’s Workshop, and Yearbook.

Increased Engagement
Thematic curriculum engages students and helps them retain key concepts.

“The benefits of our curricular approach are evident in the engagement one can sense when they step into our learning environment,” Lopes says. “Engagement must exist before meaningful, impactful learning can take place.”

To ensure students hit target levels of knowledge, Laguna assesses them throughout each unit and through standardized tests.

Personalized Instruction
In addition to the thematic curriculum, students can look forward to personalized instruction because of Laguna’s 7:1 student-to-teacher ratio. For contrast, the average class size in California’s public schools is 22:1, according to the Public School Review.

“The student-teacher relationship is at the core of everything we do,” Lopes said. “We strive to create a learning environment where the climate is safe for all community members to be their authentic selves while maintaining a healthy balance of rigor and support.”

Over 20 clubs are available to Middle School students, as well as a student leadership team, weekly assemblies, and biannual student-led conferences.
Laguna Blanca is Santa Barbara’s premier private, co-educational, college preparatory day school for students in Early Kindergarten through Grade 12.