Middle school is a tough age for kids. I like the responder that stated they would start the day with a homeroom. This is a great idea because it kids a chance to get ready for the day.
Another problem I see with middle schoolers is that by the second half of the day they can be very squirmy. I think a time where the kids can go outside or get to the gym to blow off some energy would be a good idea.
I would begin each day with a thirty-minute homeroom period. I know it's an old idea, but I think it's a good one. A homeroom gives kids a place where they can belong and interact with a teacher/adviser who isn't grading them on academic work. A teacher with a positive, supportive attitude can make homeroom a safe place and can build a lot of rapport and sense of "us" with students all year long. A homeroom period is also a good time for kids to get organized for the day, and it provides time for school business (such as announcements, food drives, etc.) without interrupting instruction time during the rest of the day. A good homeroom teacher can be a student's best and most immediate mentor/advocate.
Also, I would make sure the middle school offered a variety of school clubs and extracurricular activities to give kids an opportunity to pursue their interests and develop new ones. Clubs that emphasize service to others in some way are especially valuable. When kids feel they really can make a difference, they develop a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. They feel important and valuable--which they are, and they need opportunities to realize this about themselves.
Finally, I would hold a monthly school social at the end of the day on a Friday to build school spirit with games and fun/funny team activities. Some music, treats, and prizes donated by local businesses would add to the entertainment. Some funny faculty performances would work, too. (Kids love watching their teachers act like people.) I would end each social with an upbeat, positive-messaged school "rap" chanted by everybody.
And as for uniforms, I vote yes, yes, and yes again, for all the reasons cited here.
how would you make a middle school better?
I think middle schools could be better if you could eliminate the things that cause all the peer pressure. Hair styles, clothing, social background--they all cause inequalities amongst the students.
In our school, we've had problems in the past with the dress code. This year, we adopted uniforms and have almost entirely eliminated the "I'm better than you are" attitude. Also gone is the immodest apparel of some of the students. By having to wear the same kind of clothing as everyone else, we have "bridged the gap" between the "haves" and the "have-nots," the "Mr. Cools" and "Mr. Losers."
I agree with some of kkosach's points. Uniforms are awesome. Not only do they eliminate SOME of the problems kids deal with (but poor kids are still obviously poor) but they help establish an atmosphere of obedience.
There are some kids who walk in the door on day one considering how they will be able to "buck the system." But in a uniform, they cross the threshold of the school already obeying rule #1. It makes everyone feel safer and more secure.
The second thing I'd do is insist on high-quality professional development for the teachers. I don't care if they have to miss work, I want all my teachers to attend national conferences and great seminars that will offer them fresh, effective teaching techniques.
I would be sure to have the kids in uniforms, so that issues of being able to fit in would be slightly less. If the kids don't have to worry about their fashion, that's one less thing screwing up their day. Middle school kids' self esteem is fragile enough as it is without throwing outfits in to the mix. I would have school-wide silent reading - reading is a habit kids should get into before high school as it improves vocabulary and comprehension, to name a couple. I'd be sure to have a study hall built in as a mandatory elective for all the kids. I hope this helps.