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School District Overhauls Middle School Education.


Summer 2012

By David Zaslawsky

Some of the most dramatic changes in the Montgomery Public Schools district have taken place in the middle schools.

The district modified its model by transforming nearly all middle schools in the district to grades six through eight, eliminating four different configurations.

Another important change was creating what the district called a sixth-grade academy, where all the sixth-graders are grouped together.

“Middle schools are tough times for kids because they are making a transition into adolescence and adulthood,” said Tom Salter, senior communications officer for MPS. He said that the sixth-grade academy helps with the adjustment of moving from an elementary school to a middle school environment.

“It helps them make the transition into the culture of how their education will be not only in middle school and high school, but in college as well,” Salter said.

The changes inside the classroom have been impressive, too. A pre-Advanced Placement (AP) program has been launched in the middle schools, which will help prepare students for taking AP classes in high school by taking a more rigorous curriculum.

Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Thompson said that 3,716 eighth-graders had enrolled in pre-AP classes. Yes, that is a huge number and much more than you might expect.

The teachers also benefit from the pre-AP program because they are likely to also teach traditional classes as well and it “helps to give the teachers some more tools,” Salter said.

“Our changing role in the middle school is to focus a lot on what I call those social, team-building kinds of skills, where kids learn more about problem solving,” Thompson said.

“I would like us to focus more on a project-based learning environment, which really creates what I consider to be the best environment for learning for that age group because kids won’t sit and listen to a lecture. That is why the district brought in robotics and the pre-AP programs, the smartboards and those sorts of things because they are more hands on.”

Johnnie R. Carr now has a magnet program – Carr Academic Magnet School – that according to the MPS website “focuses on project-based learning” while offering math and science courses one year above a student’s current grade level. Salter said the magnet program is based on the AP model with “accelerated academics in all core areas.”

In the fall, the entire school will adopt the International Baccalaureate model.

Career technical classes are now offered in middle schools and a robotics program is available in middle schools.

The robotics program combines math and science “in a way that kids don’t really know they are learning,” Thompson said. “For most kids it’s fun – they really get into that kind of environment.”

Depending on the school, there are courses in business/marketing; family and consumer science education; and career technologies education, which features a Career Discoveries course for middle school students.

Eighth-graders are being exposed to what’s available in the seven career academies, which are for high school students. They can attend camps to learn about the various career academies, and the district also has videos.