Middle schools may increase student communication

Increased personal communication is one of the Federal Way school district’s goals when the middle school system goes into effect in 2003.

“The middle school concept is such a powerful thing — it provides students a chance to build good relationships and to learn and be excited about learning, yet acknowledges that these are still children,” said Danny Leaverton, facilitator of the Middle School Transition Team. “It gives a chance for an adult to know them and work with them.”

The school board approved more than a dozen of the team’s recommendations for the new middle schools, which will take effect when the district’s new high school is completed in 2003. The six junior highs (grades seven through nine), will become middle schools (grades six through eight) and the ninth graders will move to the high schools.

“Positive relationships with caring adults is the key element these students need as they are figuring out who they are,” Leaverton said. “The majority of recommendations are changes that will encourage more positive relationships among parents, teachers and students.”

One of the recommendations is that each student have an advocate — a teacher or professional staff member who will come to know the student and their work.

It’s an idea that’s found success the past two years at Saghalie Junior High.

“Parents have been the most enthusiastic,” said principal Carol Eberhart. “They know who to call now. Our attendance has gone up, our discipline problems have decreased and the average student grades have increased.”

The transition team hopes to have the same results when middle schools are implemented.

“In elementary school, kids stayed with their same teacher all day and all year long, so the two had a chance to know each other,” Leaverton said, “but in junior high, a student may have up to 11 different teachers in the course of a year, and a teacher sees about 150 kids a day. It’s hard to develop personal relationships in that situation.”

In the new middle schools, parents, their child and their child’s advocate will meet during the first days of school. Each teacher will be an advocate for 20-30 students each year. Parents will be encouraged to call their child’s advocate with any questions or concerns.

“We’ll be able to provide a safer learning environment and build a cohesiveness that was missing before,” said Michelle Cole, a Kilo teacher and transition team member. “We expect parents will feel more comfortable, and students will feel more comfortable with each other and will participate in class more. It’s easier to raise your hand and take a chance if you know the other kids.”

The team’s work is now in the hands of the junior high principals, who are assembling committees of parents, students and teachers to decide how best to implement the recommendations.

Parents are still needed on these teams. Call Danny Leaverton at (253) 945-5833.

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