Oltman tries out ‘middle school’ modelThis year’s seventh-graders won’t notice it (unless they talk to older brothers and sisters), but Oltman Junior High School is delivering education differently than in the past.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
This year’s seventh-graders won’t notice it (unless they talk to older brothers and sisters), but Oltman Junior High School is delivering education differently than in the past.
Next year, junior high schools will become middle schools for sixth, seventh and eighth-graders. Ninth-graders will go to Park, Woodbury or East Ridge, slated to open next fall.
At Oltman, however, teachers, with the blessing of principal Becky Schroeder, decided to convert to middle school this year.
Junior high schools are set up to be mini-high schools where students have required classes and choose electives. Generally, teachers are not aware of how students are doing in other classes.
To move away from that model, seventh-grade classrooms are grouped in their own area of the school in “houses” of approximately 130 students who take the same classes. Core classes include math, language arts and science. This trimester, they also get classes in computer skills, family and consumer science and art.
In the past, students could take elective classes. In middle school, they all take the same classes at one time during the year.
When teachers met last year to work on the middle school model, they agreed students need more and better computer skills, so a class was added.
Math teacher Stacy Hinz will have the same students in her classes for an entire year, and will get to know them.
Hinz and other seventh-grade teachers such as Andrea Kleoppel, Gina Gamnis and Tracy Caponigri meet twice a week for one class period to discuss how things are going in Seven Wonders, the name students gave to their house.
Teachers are also giving up some of their class preparation time for meetings they did not have in past years. If a student has a death in his or her family, teachers share that information and watch for opportunities to help.
“In just two weeks, I know my students so much better,” Kleoppel said in a teacher’s meeting held Thursday, Sept. 11.
Caponigri said kids seem to enjoy being in the same area of the building where they don’t have to cope with ninth-graders.
“This is so much better for kids,” she said. “They connect with other students and we get to know them. It’s more like an elementary school.”
Gamnis said students seem more comfortable.
While seventh-grade teachers are enthusiastic, not everything has gone smoothly.
Students in eighth and ninth grades can be excused from homeroom for special activities such as student council.
Under the middle-school model, homerooms are now “advisories.” Time is structured for discussions and activities such as logic and math games. Teachers don’t want students to miss that. On the other hand, they want them to participate in school activities. Being active helps insure success in school.
Part of the middle school model calls for teachers to have their desks in the same room to encourage sharing and make classrooms interchangeable. But the room is too small for standard teacher desks.
Teachers are sure they can work out the bugs in the new structure and don’t want to turn back.
“It’s a huge shift,” said Schroeder. “We’ve already learned so much. We want students to be comfortable and feel like they are part of a community.”
Judy Spooner can be reached at email@example.com.