Building a middle school (almost) from scratch.

Discussion in 'Middle School / Junior High' started by chinamom, Jul 6, 2009.

  1. chinamom

    chinamom Rookie

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    Jul 6, 2009

    Hi everyone. I am currently teaching at a very small private school. I teach Language Arts and I'm also assistant director of the middle school. For the past few years our enrollment in middle school has been dropping--it's kind of self-perpetuating if that makes sense. Once enrollment fell to a certain point, everyone that was left starting feeling like they wanted a bigger environment, and even more left! We were bought last year by a company that runs independent schools, so now we have some more support in our quest to rebuild our middle school, which is good. We are hopeful that we can!

    We are trying to give our middle school more of a separate identity and better meet the needs of our (few) students. We are trying a sort of modified block schedule next year and are adding a period for advisory and electives, and also for community service. There are only three teachers that will be teaching all classes-- since they are so small, one teacher is doing all math and soc. studies, etc., at least for now. So here are my questions:

    1. As we add in this advisory period, we are searching for some resources to guide us. We'd like each grade level to have its own theme either by year or by quarter. Can anyone recommend resources?

    2. We would like to really incorporate service projects into the curriculum-- on a local level and even on a more global level. I think that this is really going to be a cornerstone of what we're trying to build but again it is new. Can anyone recommend a good place to start with this? For example, our new headmaster was talking about potentially partnering or developing relationships w/ schools in other countries.

    3. Electives- We are thinking that we'd like to provide these opportunities and it's something we know our parents and students want and need. Things like personal finance, home ec. etc. Have any of you done this in a really small environment without the type of staff support you'd find in a larger school? What was your experience with this?

    I find myself in a unique position in that the people in charge are giving me a lot of leeway and decision-making ability and input, simply because I think even they are unsure about the course we are taking. This is exciting on one hand, because I get to be a part of the building of this and the vision for it, but disconcerting on the other hand. It's a little like the blind leading the blind. There's a part of me that wants one of them to say "this is what we're doing and this is what you need to do."

    I'd greatly appreciate any input!
    Chinamom
     
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  3. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Jul 6, 2009

    Stream of consciousness about to follow, sorry!

    OK, there are 2 basic concerns: providing the best possible education for these kids and getting the word out that you're doing so.

    My school is very conservative in a lot of ways. We don't offer a whole lot of electives, none for our middle schoolers. (Our older kids get to choose a language, but all our 6-8th graders take Latin.) Our kids take a basic liberal arts curriculum.

    You say that you have a small school. Wonderful!! There are so many things about a small schoolt hat a larger school can't offer-- you need to ensure that these things are used to their fullest and that word gets out. So your teachers really get to know your kids, the kids form a tight knit community-- these are wonderful things. You need to ensure that they really happen. That advisory period can be part of the process. I assume that each kid will have a guidance counselor-- wil that same counselor follow the kid from year to year? Can you incorporate some study skills info into that period?

    A few things about my school that really help build community:
    a) Homeroom is important! It's not a time to make up a test or do something elsewhere in the building. It's a time to be together as a homeroom-- our school's version of the family dinner table.

    b) Each of our middle school and Freshman homerooms has a 'Big Brother and Big Sister" from the Senior class. These seniors are handpicked and spend 2-3 mornings per week with the younger kids. They're a great resource and help build class spirit.

    c) Our middle school kids have access to almost all of the activities and sports offered by the high school. It's a HUGE draw!!
     
  4. glen

    glen Companion

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    Jul 13, 2009

    Chinamom,

    I could have written this post! We are experiencing the same spiraling trend at my very small private school and are working on ways to break the cycle. Amazingly, some of our ideas that we are implementing are exactly the same as yours!

    Here's what we're doing for our middle school for the 09-10 school year. This year, the changes will only effect grades 7 and 8. My goal is to include grade 6 the following year. We are a pre-k to 8 school.

    1. New uniforms: middle school students may chose to continue wearing the traditional uniform or may chose from three different color shirts and khakis. The goal here is to help them feel more mature with in the school setting and to give them their own identity.

    2. Technology: we're going 1:1 with laptops next year. I was able to secure grant money and a matching donation. We're hoping this becomes quite a draw in the near future.

    3. Block scheduling: We're shifting from 40 minute classes 5 times a week to 70 minute classes 3 times a week. The exception is math/English. Those classes will be 45 minutes daily. The goal here is to first extend instrucitonal time, decrease transitions, and allow for more in depth explorations, particularly in science.

    4. Electives: the block scheduling allowed me to schedule electives twice weekly. We, too, will be offering home ec and a computer elective each semester (fall and spring). To attract our 6th graders, we are going to include them in the spring electives. They will be able to chose either home ec or drama.

    5. Enrichment blocks (similar to your advisory, I think): All 7th and 8th grade students will participate together in completing hands on projects. I found places for these twice a week as well. We may do long term cross-curricular projects, like bridge building or geometry projects, or we may use the time periodically to complete other team building activities, like pumpkin carving at Halloween. My thought is to pull our fourth grade into this as a big brother/big sister program, hopefully enticing them to continue on as a part of the school.

    6. Course selections (or what I call 'controlled choice'): We broke the curriculum into four chunks to be covered over a two year period. Students may chose which section of literature, science, or history they would like to take when. At the end of the eighth grade, all have completed the same curriculum. I felt this was necessary to do at this point beacuse of the small class size. It can make for a long school year if you spend it entirely with the same handful of students.

    I know we have to get out in the community more to support our enrollment. Our trend is for class size to drop after 4th grade, then again after 6th. I'm hoping to maintain next year, then begin to grow the following year. I'm working on an 'angle' now. Community service will definitely be a part of it, but we need something more. I'm leaning towards taking steps to become a green school.

    PM me if you have more you would like to discuss in detail. I'd love to bounce ideas around and see if we can help one another out!

    **I didn't have time to proofread- sorry for any typos!**
     
  5. nothermanda

    nothermanda Companion

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    Jul 14, 2009

    Check out www.ceschangelab.org for some great advisory and service learning resources. You'll have to register, but it's pretty simple.

    Good luck!
     
  6. glen

    glen Companion

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    Jul 14, 2009

    Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.
     

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