This year, the Middle School community was determined to prove that no pandemic was going to dampen their King’s spirit.
One of the defining characteristics of the King’s Academy Middle School is its focus on building a tight-knit community that cherishes and looks out for one another. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Middle School to move online after only two weeks of in-person classes, it was faced with a new challenge: how to build that quintessential Middle School culture when they couldn’t meet face-to-face?
Having to transition so soon to online learning, the Middle School kicked into high gear to ensure that its seventh and eighth grade students would still have an engaging and creative educational experience that deepens their love of learning. In addition to adjusting schedules and teaching methodologies to become more flexible and cognizant of online learning challenges, another way it improved the online experience was by preparing learning packages — big boxes filled with books, art supplies, science lab equipment for at-home experimentation, and more — which were periodically delivered to each student at home.
“We wanted to make it hands-on, we wanted our students to feel cared for,” says Dean of the Middle School Zina Nasser.
The Middle School also had a whole grade of students who were new to King’s, and some new to Jordan, who had barely gotten to know each other or their teachers. “We knew we needed to find a way to build a culture, even online, and focus on relationship and community building to make those connections,” says Nasser, who was new to the Middle School herself, having only just taken the helm that year.
With campus closed to the Middle Schoolers, group activities like advisory meetings, sit-down lunches, trips, workshops, Engage and Inspire sessions and sports were no longer in-person. According to humanities teacher George Morganis, this challenge needed a different approach.
“The challenge for us is bringing those bonding and community-building moments that happen all the time in the hallways, between periods, at advisory lunches, after school, and finding ways to make them relevant in an online context,” says Morganis.
While some activities were simple enough to do online, other experiences couldn’t be easily replicated, so Middle School faculty set out to create new social opportunities to connect students with each other as well as with their teachers.
One opportunity was a series of break-time Tea and Chat gatherings where students and teachers would meet up in Zoom breakout rooms to chat about local or world news, art and pop culture, or their favorite books and music. There were also weekly movie nights, weekend baking sessions, mobile game tournaments, and a host of new student-led clubs. Open to everyone — and with no roll call, grades or expectations — these online social occasions gave students a stress-free break to just have fun and connect with friends.
“It’s like chatting with friends at a café, but over Zoom instead,” says Dana AlOudat ’26, who believes it has been easier to bond with her classmates online compared with in-person school. “You can stay as long as you like to chat after school when you are online. You don’t get that opportunity a lot during normal school because you have to leave campus at the end of the day.”
AlOudat also noticed that being online has given students the confidence to take more leadership roles and initiate activities and clubs. One such student is Hassan AlMufleh ’26, who started a photography challenge that involves taking photographs based on a weekly theme.
“Everyone is on their laptop all day and night,” says AlMufleh about why he started the challenge. “I wanted to give them a chance to get away from the screen.”
Jumana Al Nobani ’26, Jawad Al Azzeh ’26 and Raiyah Hashim ’26 also came up with the idea of starting the Review Club.
“The club is simply sharing something you love in a very fun way with others,” explains Al Nobani. “Whether a person reviews food, movies, songs, or an experience they enjoyed does not really matter, the most important thing is to share happiness with others.”
To encourage more people to participate, the trio decided to present their reviews at virtual assembly each week. “Personally, this helped me grow in confidence and gave me the ability to speak in front of many people,” says Al Azzeh.
The club has also given them the opportunity to get to know many of their classmates and teachers better as they talk to them about review topics. That is just one of the benefits of the club that Hashim hopes to keep up. “Being able to socialize with different people can make you learn a lot about yourself,” she says.
Being part of a club also helped Aysen Koprulu ’26 come out of her shell and become more social. While exploring the culture, food, language and history of Turkey through the Turkish Club, she learned to communicate more freely with her friends, and to reach out to them when she needed help.
Joining the Theater workshop also helped make Aya Abu Ghazaleh ’26’s first year at King’s a positive one. “Taking Theater made me feel more comfortable and act myself, have fun, meditate, and spread lots of positivity,” she says.
The Middle School has long encouraged its students to take control of their learning, so continuing to do so while teaching virtually was a given. With that encouragement, many students found that online learning and student-led clubs and initiatives helped them develop independence in many areas.
“This year online was difficult,” says Hashim. “But I think it was the greatest way to understand the concept of self-directed learning, and solving our own problems without an adult's guidance.”
Saif Fanous ’26, a member of Beats on Zoom, an Engage club, agrees. “Not being able to show your work, ask questions, and interact physically was a big challenge since we couldn’t really ask for help every single time,” he says. “The club helped me learn to be more independent and responsible and to rely on myself rather than others.”
At the same time, Fanous feels that his teachers’ support helped him face those challenges in a positive way, and that being part of the club contributed to making his first year at King’s a great one. “We weren’t just a community, we were a family,” he says.
Leen Jumah ’25 and Maya Al Barakati ’25 are two students who proved that the Middle School’s efforts to build connections really do work. Although they have never met face-to-face, the eighth graders, who are in the same advisory group, have become best friends after meeting online this year.
“Those of us who have been friends since seventh grade are tightly knit since we’re a small group,” says Jumah, who is in her second year at King’s. “But new students are paired with old students they can connect to. My friend and I decided to call Maya as she was new, and we just clicked.”
On a scale of one to 10, Al Barakati gives King’s an 11 for helping the Middle School community connect online. “Being completely new, the tea and chats have been really helpful,” she says. “You just come as a community and hang out. I feel like that helped me get to know my teachers and make friends.”
Jumah appreciates how connecting online has also helped her to get to know her teachers better. “At school I would hang out with my friends during breaks, and teachers would be busy preparing for the next class, so you can’t talk to them as much,” she says. “Now I have more time to chat with my teachers, and they try to connect us all, so it has been another support system for us.”
According to Morganis, what has made online learning at the Middle School so successful this year is the flexibility and willingness of students and teachers to keep learning and growing together in new mediums.
Mar Pizarro ’26, who is new to both King’s and Jordan this year, enjoyed combining her passion for art with activism in the Guerilla Art workshop. She also thinks that the Middle School “has done a really good job” this year. “First, for understanding that we aren’t going to get the same type of work done online that we would in regular school. Also, a lot of students get distracted easily online — our teachers have been more forgiving and understanding.”
Class Dean Laila Demashqieh believes that the Middle Schoolers have been on an epic journey this year, and are the heroes of the tale. “They were able to rise above all the challenges they faced, with positivity, creativity and courage, and accomplish so much,” she says. “They saw what we were doing at the start of the year, creating opportunities for connection, and came up with so many of their own ideas to carry that forward.”
By the end of the year, Nasser and Demashqieh were happy to see that the Middle School had achieved the level of wellness that they hoped for.
“Despite many students and teachers never meeting in person, they still built those connections,” says Nasser. “We were able to transcend this pandemic. We were still able to develop that King’s spirit.”