Although it would not truly come into its own until 1972, the Gilman Middle School began 50 years ago in September 1970. After a full review of the campus and curriculum, Gilman’s 1968-1970 Long Range Planning Committee recommended creating a three-grade Middle School to “allow for the gradual transition from the homeroom environment of the elementary school to the departmentalized structure of the high school.” The Committee’s 1970 report states that the Middle School could
“take account of the special needs and capabilities of children in the years between childhood and adolescence….The middle school youngster should be challenged with new and interesting ideas, materials, and concepts. This is particularly important in a time when children acquire sophistication and a wider range of knowledge more rapidly. At the same time, the middle school program should make provisions for a broad range of individual differences which manifest themselves with this age group, and it is, therefore, incumbent upon the school organization to provide for and encourage both large and small group activities and individual pursuits.”
In June 1970, Reginald S. Tickner became the first Head of the Middle School. Although the students would also still be considered First and Second Formers, in September 1970, Gilman welcomed its first Middle School students with the separation of 7th and 8th grades from the Upper School. The 6th grade would separate from the Lower School in 1972 with the opening of the new Middle School building.
A Gilman News article from October 5, 1970, titled “Middle School Takes Shape,” describes how the Middle School wavered between being a separate entity and part of the Upper School during those early years. According to the article, in order to “prevent isolation of the new Middle School from the life of the Upper School,” Mr. Tickner organized a Middle School Committee, which consisted of more than a dozen Sixth Formers (12th graders) who served as mentors for the younger students. The hope was that through seminars with the Middle School Committee, “the new Middle Schoolers’ voices will be heard in the Student Council where they have been so woefully lacking in the past.”
During those first two years, the current W. P. Carey College Counseling Center (also known as First and Second Form Study Hall and later CT-20) operated as the “Middle School Room.” According to the February 1971 student publication “Hot off the Press,” the Middle School students were eager to have a building of their own. In an article titled “Lack-Lack-Lack,” Thomas A. Miller ’75 argues that “it is apparent that this year Gilman does not have adequate facilities to accommodate the Middle Schoolers. This problem has often been voiced in complaints by a majority of First and Second Formers. The School has made some rapid advances in providing space; case in point--the predominantly Middle School corridor on the third floor. More improvements are urgently needed, especially in non-academic areas.” The solution to this problem would be creating a brand new Middle School building, which broke ground in the spring of 1972.
The Middle School would truly come into being in September 1972 with the opening of the Dr. John M. T. Finney Middle School Building. Named for the prominent physician Dr. John M. T. Finney, who served as President of Gilman’s Board of Trustees from 1912 to 1942, the building was originally designed as an open-space school with removable walls. In this new building, Gilman formed a unique Middle School faculty who would teach the three grades. Over the years, the physical structure of the building would change. More traditional, closed classrooms were added in 1976. In 1993, Gilman’s Board of Trustees approved the construction of a new Middle School building, and the John M. T. Finney Hall was rededicated on September 9, 1994. New traditions would also emerge to make Gilman Middle School the unique place it is today. As is written in the Middle School Handbook, “whether one focuses on the Talk program, Mathematics, or the Super Gras, the Middle School is an integral part of the Gilman community and a special place for learning and living.”
Listen to longtime former Middle School teacher Don Abrams describe the early years and evolution of the Gilman Middle School: