At Portfolio School, middle school matters.  

Young adolescents need more than a bridge to cross between the hands-on learning of elementary schools and the high-stakes drilling for college preparation of most high schools.  On the cusp of adolescence, middle school students crave active discovery that allows them to formulate and try out their own ideas in response to thoughtful and thought-provoking challenges.  They seek out their peers for group work where they can try on different project-management roles while honing their executive function and negotiating skills.  They stretch their intellectual skills through meaningful academic work and they grow their metacognitive skills in reflecting on open-ended questions and brainstorming sessions.  Their world expands from “I” to “we” as they work to contribute to solving real-world problems.  Portfolio School’s research-based approach and innovative, integrated curriculum challenges students appropriately while engaging them in creative and exciting work.  Here, middle school students become confident, self-aware, collaborative learners who retain their curiosity and their love of learning.

Portrait of a Portfolio Middle School Student

Portfolio middle school students will:

  • Seek and explore areas of inquiry independently, with their peers, with our teachers, and with expert mentors throughout the city and beyond.

  • Work to solve open-ended real-world problems by using design thinking strategies and content knowledge.

  • Share their work in competitions, conferences, and exhibitions.

  • Reflect on their learning styles, their strengths, and their challenges.

Portfolio middle school students are engaged and independent learners who advocate with confidence for themselves and others. They undertake leadership roles in the school and are committed to project-related service in the community.

Advisory Groups

At Portfolio School, students engage in meaningful interactions with teachers, advisors and mentors.  Middle school students meet in advisory groups to focus on large issues and current events, addressing questions such as:

  • How do we evaluate the likely truthfulness or objectivity of what we hear, see, and read?

  • What questions are raised by what we have read, seen or heard?

  • How do we formulate our own positions?

  • What is the historical context of current events?

  • What arguments are likely to be most persuasive?

  • How do you prepare for a written argument versus an oral one?

  • How do we communicate passionately but without alienating others?

Students also meet one-on-one with their advisors several times each month to touch base on social, emotional, and academic issues.  Advisors assist students in becoming accountable for their actions, learning how to self-regulate their emotions and how to self-advocate.


Our challenging curriculum requires increased independence from students, a muscle that research shows they need to flex.  They continue to cultivate their passions, even in the face of newly recognized limitations or obstacles. They create, analyze, innovate, and reflect.  In short, they become co-designers of their own learning.

Students expand the depth and breadth of their skills through units of inquiry over a three-to-four month period.  Recognizing that in the world outside of school, no problem belongs purely to one domain, these units integrate age-appropriate critical reading, writing and analysis, mathematics, science, health & wellness, politics, history, geography, and ethics.  Each unit culminates in the presentation of projects related to the unit of inquiry.

Because students are engaged, their work sometimes continues outside of school hours and outside of the school walls.  Students participate in service learning with partners that they have identified for a given unit. Partnerships throughout the community allow Portfolio students to explore beyond the confines of the school walls.  Students have the opportunity to travel for research and to present their own research. The units require students to undertake solving problems that exist in the real world and to present their proposals, reflecting on the process and responding to questions by peers, teachers, parents, and mentors outside of school.

Sample Unit of Inquiry

To see a sample 6th grade Unit of Inquiry, please download “It’s an epidemic!”  

Scan the headlines of any newspaper and you’ll find that we are battling several epidemics right now:

  • The opioid crisis

  • Gun violence

  • Ebola

History offers many examples of epidemics:  influenza, including the 1918 flu pandemic; cholera, the plague.

By their nature, epidemics adversely affect large numbers of people and present challenges in prevention, preparedness, and eradication.  From city governments to Homeland Security, medical personnel, hospital administrators, data analysts, and politicians run scenarios to assess our country’s readiness to battle anticipated epidemic challenges.

Through fiction and non-fiction, through case studies, data sets, maps and graphs, and through partnerships with governmental agencies and scientific researchers, Portfolio 6th grade students become detectives, sociologists, statisticians, innovators, and ethicists.


Students explore topics in visual arts, performing arts, and more. Options change based on student interest, but can include:

  • Drawing & Painting

  • Ceramics

  • Animation

  • Photography

  • Filmmaking

  • One-act plays

  • Creative Writing

  • Graphic Storytelling

  • Afro-Cuban Dance

  • Capoiera

  • Music Composition

  • Music History

  • A capella singing

  • Student-led Clubs (e.g., Chess, Yearbook)

Sports & Athletics

Middle school students continue to need time outside of the classroom in fields and parks in Tribeca.  At the school, middle school students have options such as:

  • Yoga and meditation

  • Martial arts

  • Rock-climbing

  • Fencing

  • Squash

  • Swimming

  • Gymnastics

  • Tennis

Starting in 7th grade, students will be able to participate in interscholastic sports in the city.

Sample Schedule