This post is the first in a series spotlighting middle grades schools across Maine. We ask the school three questions:
• Which Bright Futures Core Practice does your school address in powerful ways?
• In what ways does your school address this Core Practice?
• How do you know that your school’s actions are making a difference for students?
The author of this post is Gary Oswald, 2008 Maine Middle Level Principal of the Year. His school is Mt. Blue Middle School in Farmington.
We have chosen to highlight Core Practice One and how it relates to our new RTI program implemented this school year.
Core Practice 1
Students have access to curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory and is organized and executed to maximize accessibility for all students
We at Mt. Blue Middle School have designed a very systematic and consistent program for ALL our students. We stressed the importance of being sure we had a challenging and relevant class for Tier One students as well as Tiers Two and Three. Our Tier One students are being challenged through the textbook Elements of Literature that is used by both 7th and 8th grade, each with their specific grade level book. Laptops are used as well with students designing stories, analyzing poems, connecting with music, finding appropriate quotes, etc. There is also direct instruction from the their teachers. These elements all support our standards as well as challenge our students to strive for the next level. Reading is enhanced and brings their critical thinking skills out. Our Literacy Across the Curriculum (LAC) program within RTI supports a meaningful connection within other disciplines and puts students’ critical thinking skills to work. The Literacy Across the Curriculum program is an additional 60 minutes each day over and above students’ language arts class that meets 80 minutes every other day. The Tier Two students are receiving the same amount of time for their program that is “Corrective Reading”. In order to implement the LAC the teachers were asked to give up their prep time, which in itself was a very positive step to help support and advance learning opportunities for our students.
We have many project based learning and integrated units. Some of the topics of these units include Rock’n’Roll, Philanthropy, Winter Outdoor Week, and the Iditarod. The students enjoy these active learning assignments, and we find that they are better engaged and take more ownership for their grade through these activities. Our goal is to tie all learning into life long learning. As school budgets shrink around the state our school is not immune, and we struggle to maintain our middle school roots through teaming, block scheduling, common planning, and heterogeneous grouping.
We have used the Bright Futures document to design our RTI program and reform some of our other programs and practices at our school. Our student climate surveys over the past 8 years have been very positive as the students state that they feel a sense of belonging in the school and its structure. They know their input and suggestions are always taken seriously and do not fall on deaf ears, as this is their school. Our number of suspensions has steadily declined during the past 4 or 5 years due to the tireless work and consistency of the staff at MT. Blue Middle School. Test scores as we all know are important, but our goal is to produce students who know how to voice an opinion, think through a problem, make positive choices, and in a nutshell are well balanced individuals. We educate the entire child not just pieces of the girl/boy. The entire child includes academic, social, emotional, and physical needs because this is what a child needs to grow. Attitudes, motivation, and other traits must be improved upon so that these students can be productive citizens, successful learners, and hold high self-esteem. We operate our educational norms in our school by staying focused on academic rigor (not busy work), stimulating activities, and nurturing growth. These are not mutually exclusive, but rather, are mutually supportive and should be every teacher’s guide as well as schools at all levels, not just middle schools.