SCARBOROUGH — Call it a season of change at Scarborough Middle School, where the new school year began Thursday, Aug. 28.
Based on school officials’ research on best practices at nearby and out-of-state schools, the middle school classroom structure and teacher development are changing dramatically, Principal Barbara Hathorn said.
Students now belong to one of three learning communities separated entirely by grade. Formerly, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students were organized into five wings made up of a few classrooms of each grade, and there was one wing made up entirely of multi-age classrooms.
In the graded learning communities, students of the same grade are split into “inquiry teams” with four homeroom teachers, with the exception of one sixth-grade team. Each teacher instructs students in their IT in one core subject area.
The structural changes lead the middle school toward more integrated, project-based learning, and create a more “equitable” middle school experience for all students, Hathorn said.
Hathorn and other school officials have said they believe the school’s old system was not effective as it could be, because the lack of a uniform structure across the school meant teachers and students were not all learning at the same rate.
“We found every wing had a little different flavor, which was fine for a long time, but we want things different now,” she said. “I got a lot of phone calls (from parents), ‘How come this wing did that and my kids didn’t?’ I agree, they were right, so we’re trying to rein that in.”
Conversely, starting this year at Wentworth Intermediate School, all classrooms are multi-age.
Sixth-grade students will be in the portable classroom building, seventh-graders will have classes on the middle school’s lower level, and eighth-graders will be on the top floor.
Classroom assignments were sent out to middle school students last week.
To accommodate the new classroom style, there will only be three, 20-minute lunch periods per day separated by grade, compared with the previous five. To accommodate more than 250 students eating at a time, Hathorn said the school will provide additional tables and seating near the lobby in the lower rotunda.
“It’s not great,” she said, “but we had to figure something out.”
Also new this year is the rise period, a full classroom period once a week for students to get extra help in areas where they are falling behind or not meeting standards.
Hathorn said inquiry team teachers will meet regularly to assess the progress of their students in core subjects and accordingly assign where students will go each week during the rise period. If students are meeting or exceeding standards, they will be given assignments to accelerate their study.
In addition to rise periods, teachers in inquiry teams and learning communities will meet three times a week for curriculum development, business and planning, and to troubleshoot instructional problems.
This year’s school budget will also accommodate full-time allied arts positions that were formerly part-time, including music, art and a combined year-round physical education and health class now called “wellness.”
A new full-time Spanish teacher brings the school’s total world language staff to five. As part of the School Department’s preparation for a new state mandate in second language proficiency, world languages will become part of the daily class schedule for eighth-graders who are meeting standards in reading and math.
Hathorn said she expects some bumps in the road as the district enters a year of change, but is optimistic that students will grow and achieve under the middle school’s new system.
“I want every kid, all kids, to improve,” she said.