Middle school is a time of profound change. At Watershed, students gain the academic skills, sense of identity, and independence that are key to healthy adolescence.

At Watershed, middle school students challenge themselves academically within a close-knit community and supportive social-emotional environment. At exactly the time that students are learning who they are, they can be part of a community that values reflection and growth. And our engaging real-world academics connects students to a larger sense of purpose - something that drives interest, motivation, and a greater sense of contribution to the world.

experience active, hands-on learning

Watershed’s academically vigorous program prepares our middle school students for college preparatory work in high school. But our courses are also active, hands-on, and rarely based on a textbook.

Science labs, field work, and studio art all engage the multiple intelligences of middle school students through movement and experimentation.

This creative, dynamic environment maintains the innate love of learning that shouldn’t go away as students enter adolescence.

develop healthy independence

Early adolescence is a time for students to learn who they are as independent learners, and at Watershed, they can do so with gradually increasing responsibilities that develop independence over time. At Watershed, it all begins with a four day camping trip that forges a sense of community and the confidence to try new things. Overnight expedition trips start to connect classroom learning with the real world. And May Term courses integrate week-long travel with academic learning. Challenges, and time away from home, gradually increase in a supportive way as students get closer to high school.

build a clear sense of identity

Who you are is just as important as what you know. At Watershed, every classroom posts the seven character traits we build in middle school. Students set goals for character development, receive feedback using those terms, and reflect on progress. Real-world experiences challenge students to practice these character traits, whether it’s having grit in the field or showing empathy for others in your group. Our focus on character helps middle school students grow into their best selves.

Watershed’s middle school outperforms the mean for private middle schools according to all three criteria measured: intellectual engagement, social engagement, and emotional engagement.
— Middle Grades Survey of Student Engagement

foster critical thinking


Middle school academics begin with a 6th grade course on critical thinking. Students ask, "How do I know what I know?" Through interdisciplinary study, students are taught to ask meaningful questions, pose hypotheses, develop tests, and collect evidence. In 7th and 8th grade, these skills are further developed as students conduct historical research and design engineering solutions to real-world problems. Students learn to read primary sources closely; they conduct laboratory experiments and evaluate evidence; they begin to work in teams to create original answers to big questions.

Our middle school program purposefully develops the higher-level critical thinking skills needed for school and for life - at exactly the developmental period that students are growing their capacity for abstract thought.


As Boulder's only 6-12 independent school, Watershed middle school students experience a seamless transition to high school without the need to go on a new round of applications in 8th grade. While 6th and 7th grade courses focus on the fundamentals of critical thought, our 8th grade expedition increases academic challenge and prepares students for our college preparatory high school program. When they enter 9th grade, Watershed middle school students continue as part of a close-knit community.