A group of students sitting in a room with musical instruments at River Oaks Baptist School

You Never Know Until You Try

At ROBS we believe in giving our students ample opportunities to try new things. While brain neuroplasticity exists throughout our lives, adolescence is a particularly active time of brain growth. Our middle school program is intentionally designed to support this growth by structuring opportunities to try new and varied pursuits.

Research has long touted the benefits of trying something new – it energizes you, stimulates your brain, assuages fears, promotes creativity – the list goes on. But the lasting benefits based on neuroscience might be the most interesting. For the last several years, ROBS faculty have engaged in the study of Mind, Brain, and Education science research (MBE). MBE – a multidisciplinary field that bridges neuroscience, psychology, and education – drives instruction, assessment, programming, and the learning environment, particularly for our middle schoolers. The six central tenets of MBE focus on the unique organization, abilities, experiences, plasticity, connections, and processes of the brain. By better understanding the complexities of the brain, we can develop more robust, engaging, and compelling programming for our students.

Neuroplasticity – one of MBE’s six central principles – is the brain’s ability to constantly change. Throughout our lives, our brain is continuously reorganizing old neural pathways, creating new ones, and rewiring connections based on new experiences. Our brains crave the type of stimulation new experiences provide, like learning a new instrument, experimenting with a new painting technique, mastering a particular digital code. Ultimately, challenging our brain to learn something new ends up strengthening the pathways that are already there.

In fifth and sixth grades, all students are required to participate in a robust elective rotation, exposing them to two classes not offered in Lower School–orchestra and choir. For most students, the orchestra rotation is the first time they’ve ever picked up their instrument. Patrick Guerrini ’23 was one of those students. He began playing the cello in his sixth grade orchestra class with Dr. Courtney Ruth. While here members being excited from the onset, it was Dr. Ruth who really impacted his experience.“Dr. Ruth was very patient and encouraging, and she always kept it fun,” according to Patrick. That first successful year had a lasting impact on his Middle School career. He continued performing in the orchestra throughout his time at ROBS, and eventually decided to make it his focus. He now performs first chair for the Houston Youth Symphony and will attend the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts this fall in the instrumental program. He’s performed across Houston, at Interlochen in Michigan, and will participate in the Philadelphia International Music Festival this summer. “Playing the cello, and committing to it, has had a huge impact on my life, ”Patrick says. And he gives credit where credit is due: “None of this would have been possible without Dr. Ruth.”

Much like Patrick, Suraj Verma ’23 was encouraged to try something new when he found himself in sixth grade choir with Leigh Shipman. Although he was hesitant and unsure at first, he recalls, “I soon fell in love with the class, the music, and how Mrs. Shipman patiently and passionately taught each one of us. ”Suraj spent the rest of his Middle School career in Premier Choir with Mrs. Shipman, performing across Houston–from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and Pasadena City Hall to the Nutcracker Market and Houston Astros games. He even performed in the ROBS Variety Show this year. “It is because of Mrs. Shipman that I was able to learn, grow, and shine so much in her class over the years, ”Suraj says. Choir is what he will miss most about ROBS.

The patience and persistence of our teachers help our students cultivate their passions–and often-times find new ones. Just like Patrick and Suraj, most students can’t imagine their ROBS experience without the things they’ve tried along the way. When you take a risk and try something new, you sometimes find the best thing of all. And your brain is always better for it.

This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of River Oaks Baptist School’s Vine & Branch magazine. The article highlights a few of the extracurricular opportunities students are offered from the start of their middle school career as fifth graders at ROBS.

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