As a parent of a new seventh-grader at Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS), I can say with genuine conviction that the school offers my daughter a robust, fulfilling and healthy middle school experience.

I continue to hear some pretty negative and/or misleading comments about our kids’ experiences, or lack thereof, at Harwood Middle School. While I can’t speak to what the school was like several (many?) years ago, I can tell you that my daughter is thriving, excited and engaged in her new school. She most certainly does not feel like an “add-on” student.

In addition to her core classes, she plays clarinet (including a weekly private lesson), sings in chorus and runs cross-country. She is able to take advantage of the amazing high school art and music staff and experience the high school building well in advance of her freshman year, making that transition less of a challenge.

Some of the programming Harwood Middle School offers our kids: language classes – Spanish or French – music lessons, Jazz Band (after school), Student Advisory/Council, student newspaper, spelling bee, GeoBee, theater/musical in the spring, dances, Literacy Magazine, fun nights, Aviation Club, Dungeons and Dragons Club, Yearbook and Student-Led Assembly.

I guess I just don’t see what the students at Harwood Middle School are missing that’s so integral to their “middle school experience.” Despite what our administration says, most research does not conclude that middle school grade configuration has any bearing on a student’s academic, social or emotional success. It is what’s inside the building that matters most. Class sizes at HUMS hover around 15. I don’t view this as “dramatically low.” What happens when the Harwood Middle School students are moved? Unless we spend millions of dollars (on top of what is already a huge bond), we’re looking at exceptionally large class sizes.

Our middle school athletic programs are combined. Yes, HUMS soccer players are busing over to CBMS and require a ride home. What happens in the mornings when these same kids have to ride a bus from the far reaches of Warren and Fayston? A 30-minute car ride is not the same as a bus ride full of stops. As for cross-country, even if our kids are all at Crossett Brook, I’d wager that they’d still have to take a bus to Harwood to take advantage of the incredible running trails – something Crossett Brook does not have.

Aside from the outstanding and experienced staff, HUMS now has a dedicated principal in Duane Pierson, who is an exceptional leader and has already implemented positive changes in the one year he’s been there (an open and inviting common area minus lockers is just one great example).

There are definitely Valley families taking advantage of school choice and sending their kids to Crossett Brook – and that’s just what school choice is supposed to accomplish – a choice. Once we merge our middle schools, that choice disappears as well as a really incredible middle school along with it.

Schaller lives in Moretown, Vermont.