Middle school switch a success, principals sayOver the last year, East Ridge High School received considerable attention as the new kid on the block, but it wasn’t the only new horizon in District 833. This school year saw the switch from a junior high school model to a middle school.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Over the last year, East Ridge High School received considerable attention as the new kid on the block, but it wasn’t the only new horizon in District 833.
This school year saw the switch from a junior high school model to a middle school.
Woodbury Middle School (formerly Woodbury Junior High) has been on board from day one, said principal Kari Lopez.
“It’s been a great experience, it’s been absolutely fabulous,” Woodbury Middle School principal Kari Lopez said. “The kids they came, they stepped up, they were able to handle it.
“We’ve walked away from year one being way better than I ever expected.”
The year whizzed by at Lake Middle School (formerly Lake Junior High.) And that’s a good thing according to principal Todd Hochman.
“The year went fast,” he said. “Overall, it went really well, there wasn’t anything that was disastrous.
“It was a year of trying to cautiously and cognitively go through the year with ears wide open.”
The big differences between the middle school and the junior high, besides housing grades 6-8 rather than grades 7-9, is how teachers work together and with students.
In a junior high system students elect which classes they want to take, much like high school students. In a middle school system students are required to take core classes, as well as exploratory classes.
The distinguishing component of the middle school system, other than the grade configuration, is the way teachers work in teams to ensure student achievement.
“Students don’t slip through the cracks,” Hochman said. “If the kids have a bad day the core house teachers know about it.”
In junior high, students could have anywhere from 10 to 14 teachers every year, but in the middle school system, students keep the same teacher all through the year in their individual “houses.”
“Students really feel they’re part of something, not part of a middle school, but part of a family in their houses,” Lopez said. “They feel that sense of belonging.”
Working as a team
Several of the seventh grade teachers at Woodbury Middle said the teaching teams have been a tremendous benefit for both the teachers and the students.
“We have other teachers every day to talk to and share ideas with,” WMS seventh grade math teacher Ashley Kline said. “Plus it was great for the kids to see how well we work as a team.”
WMS teacher Leah Boulos said having a team to work with was a breath of fresh air since she had previously worked in a middle school system and then moved to the junior high.
“I was very lost not having a team to talk to about the kids,” Bolous said. “It’s been amazing to see the teams work together and do what’s the best for kids.”
WMS language arts teacher Lanka Liyanapathirangage, who previously taught at the elementary level, said he enjoyed sharing ideas with teachers from other grades and blending them together to create something that would be best for the students.
“We’ve learned a lot about how to work as a team since we’ve all come from different backgrounds,” he said.
Change in the students
After the shift to the middle school system, the teachers and principals said they have seen a significant change in their students, both academically and socially.
For example, with the house model students are able to make friends easier and have more of that connection to the school, whereas in a junior high some students may feel lost.
“Being a part of house allows kids to make more of a difference, they have an identity and they can take responsibility for what that identity is going to be,” Boulos said. “Plus, it’s so much more positive, it’s the giddy middle school, not the grumbling, slouching down the hallway kind of thing.”
Lopez and Hochman said they have seen a considerable change in the students’ performances and attitudes since switching to the middle school system.
“With all these different things in play, academics just rise,” Lopez said. “Students are engaged, they wanted to be here.”
District 833 middle schools will incorporate a few additional elements next year, including a peer-mentoring program, student-led conferences and an advisory component.
“We are glad that we have the first year under our belt because now a lot of the unknown stuff is out of the way,” Hochman said. “We know what to expect now.”