A move to a new school can be daunting for students, exciting for others. Like all schools, the New London Intermediate/Middle School handles this situation for students each year.
But last year included the addition of 5th graders into the building for the first time. Joe Green, intermediate principal for 5th and 6th graders, says it was a very successful transition.
“The staff did a great job keeping things separate for the 5th and 6th graders,” he said. The 5th and 6th graders occupy the west side of the school, while the 7th and 8th graders are located on the east side. “It really ran smoothly, as class times were staggered and the students could pass to their next classes at different times than the upper grade levels,” Green explained.
The staff also set the school wide schedule so that hallways were clear from upper classmen when the younger grades were going to lunch and out to catch their school bus. The 5th grade teachers kept their students at more of an elementary setting, walking students to their destinations, thus eliminating anyone getting lost in the new building.
“That gives the feeling of an elementary school to the students, and gets them acclimated to their new setting,” said Green. “We’re happy with the results but also know there is much work ahead.”
Green says this summer they have been working together to reorganize, to better utilize the strengths of the teachers. Since last school year there is one less teacher in the 5th and 6th grade levels.
New this year to the 5th and 6th graders will be “Bulldog Time”, a 30-minute intervention time for students where they can receive appropriate interventions or be challenged academically, and work on character traits that are in sync with the Bulldogs of Character initiative in schools throughout the district.
Students will be adapting to a Math Expressions program that was introduced at the 5th grade level last year with great success, and will now be expanded to the 6th grade. Math Expressions is a resource that helps strengthen the conceptual understanding of mathematics while reinforcing traditional practice. This required some staff training and development over the past few years and also involves parents in the process.
“It’s not always easy for parents to grasp some of the new curriculum, and by involving them in the process, we can learn right along with the children,” said Green.
Behind the scenes, the 5th grade will be receiving a grading program that parents can connect to.
“In past years the elementary schools grading system has been recorded on paper,” explained Green. “We’re piloting a standards-based program on the internet now, so that instead of being assessed at the end of a learning unit, students’ progress will be put into a program and their progress can be monitored by both the teacher and the parents. This really allows parents and teachers to be on the same page with the student.” Green says the program will go live at some point in the school year, possibly as early as November.
Fifth graders will also reap the fruit of the technology referendum this year. Smart boards are going to be introduced into many more classrooms. The Smart board is like a white chalkboard, but is tied to a projector, which is in turn tied to a computer so that anything on a computer screen can be projected to the entire class at one time. Interactive tools are the key to this technology, which enable students to interact with others, enhancing learning.
All the teachers have document cameras that allow them to place 3D objects under it and show the entire class the item. It also allows a teacher to manipulate a worksheet or assignment with a touch of a finger.
“We are proud of all the improvements we’ve made this year and look forward to having the classrooms filled again soon,” said Green. “This should be the school of choice for parents to enroll their children in. Our students are excited to be here.”
Middle School Principal, Terry Wetzel, concurs. Entering his second year at the school, he experienced his own transition from the high school level last year.
“It’s a great change for me,” said Wetzel with a wide smile. “I loved the high school level and yet, there is a unique level of enthusiasm here at the middle school. It’s an incredible time for kids, and it’s very gratifying to be a part of it.” Wetzel said he enjoyed meeting all the students and their parents over the first year.
Like the 5th and 6th graders with their Bulldog Time, the 7th and 8th graders will have a time notched out each day to work on the Bulldogs of Character traits. For 30 minutes each day, these pre-teens will be immersed in building relationships, recognizing that they have to use respect and responsibility in their daily lives.
“This is time used to monitor the students’ progress and perhaps give some early intervention where needed, or some acknowledgement to a job well done,” explained Wetzel. One day the teacher may ask them to work on writing, drawing or reading, and another day they may listen to someone from the community share their success story.
“We plan to mix it up and keep it interesting,” said Wetzel. “If we can balance structure and flexibility to meet the students’ needs we’ll be on the right track to ensure success for all students.”
Wetzel said that down the road they would like to develop a community service project that gives the students pride of ownership and a way to make a difference in their community. “We haven’t developed a project yet, but it’s coming,” said Wetzel.
The two principals enjoy working together, sharing one building and joining forces when necessary to get their jobs done.
“It’s been a smooth transition on so many levels,” said Wetzel. “We have our staff to thank for much of it, and the support of the district office. This is a really great school to be associated with.”