Federal Way middle school touts math and science success

Saghalie Middle School is transitioning from a traditional middle school to a Math and Science Preparatory Academy.

For 2011-12, the first phase of this transition was rolled out. According to Saghalie administrators and staff, it's been a success so far.

"For the 2011 and 2012 school year, we started our fist cohort of students, with 150 students coming into the academy in the sixth and seventh grades, and that reflected probably a third of our student population in the building," said Saghalie principal Laura Davis-Brown, during the Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) board meeting on April 24.

Davis-Brown said seven teachers were brought in for this new program, with an aim at blending subject areas like humanities, science, engineering and technology into a comprehensive experience for the students.

"The students follow an integrated standards basis, using those standards from multiple disciplines," Davis-Brown said. "The kids have a way of taking their learning, and demonstrating it in an authentic way, and making sure they're able to apply the learning they have within all of the core content."

A number of the staff involved with this transition were present, chief among them Stephanie Haegele and Anna Knuth. Haegele is the lead for the project on the humanities side of things, while Knuth is the lead on the project for the science/math/engineering portion of the program.

Knuth shared the team's mission statement for Saghalie, which is a recognition of the importance of joining the humanities with the sciences.

"We exist to connect our students to pathways that advance technology, engineering and mathematics, using effective reading, writing and communication skills," Knuth said. "What does that look like at Saghalie? We decided we really wanted to build a community at Saghalie. Inquiry based. Everything we do in class, we strive to lean toward inquiry. And student-centered. What do the kids want to do, and how does that connect to their learning targets?"

Some of the projects that the students at Saghalie have participated in this year as part of this shift of focus include projects where students studied and presented possible solutions for climate change. Other projects included having students study health epidemics of the past and today and how those affect society and how science and technology could possibly combat them going into the future. They also participated in projects studying the health of the Puget Sound.

For next year, the program is set to expand to all of the sixth grade students at Saghalie. A $10,000 grant from the non-profit organization Washington STEM will also help expand the program's boundaries.

"Our academy is really going to take on new forms and shapes next year," said Haegele.

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