School district showcases options and success
A group of about 25parents and several students joined the Dennis-Yarmouth schooldistrict as it kicked off its multi-day, multi-site "DY-Advantage"information series yesterday evening at the NH Wixon Middle School inDennis.
With growing competitionamong the region's schools, districts have embraced everything fromadvertising to community outreach to slogans in order to communicatewhat they do and why it matters -- and to help parents and studentsbe informed consumers of their school options.
The DYDistrict, which feels it is often mischaracterized, realized itneeded to present its successes and has begun using the tagline DYAdvantage, a coin it termed a few years ago. This series of sixpresentations forms part of its outreach efforts.
"The kids are motivated and we can challenge them andtake their work to a whole other level. The higher we raise the bar,the higher they want to go." - Tammy Neter, teacher
Featured"Advantages" in the November 29 presentation included twoof this year's new pilots: the 8th grade Accelerated/STEM program runat the high school and the Wixon Middle Level Academy for 6th gradersat the Wixon School.
STEM pilot draw raves
The Science,Technology, Engineering, and Math (aka STEM) program for 8th graderscombines accelerated core classes along with twice-weekly STEMelectives. The program enrolled 85 students this fall, drawing fromboth towns in the district, as well as a handful of school choicestudents.
Current pilot student, 8th grader Taylor McDowell,said she choose the program over continuing at her parochial schooland hasn't looked back. She spoke with great energy about theminiature boat she and her team designed in the school's Design SquadNation engineering class.
"It held more than 300pennies and floated," she said, smiling as she admitted it wasalso the winning design.
In creatingthe pilot program, the district chose to leverage existing resources,like Design Squad, to offer proven STEM offerings. Teachers in theprogram spent part of last summer working with the Museum of Sciencein Boston, attending teacher training programs designed to helpschools select and integrate STEM resources into their ownclassrooms.
Design Squad Nation a PBS developed program, engageskids in hand-on engineering with a series of challenges that bothteach concepts and encourage creativity. Another DY STEM class,Future City Competition, encouragesproblem-based learning with computer simulation.
Rumors have been flying that the district's 8th graderswould be consolidated into the high school, but school officials atlast night's meeting said programs like the Accelerated/STEM programexemplify the approach instead -- to incent with quality programsrather than force mass reorganization.
The district says thatthe program's popularity and early success, along with the strongpositive impact it is having on students, has already made themdecide that it will be continuing next year.
Wixon's Middle Level Academy had a chance to shine also. Oneof the program's four teachers, Tammy Neter, said she has beenhappily stunned by the level of enthusiasm and engagement in theclassroom.
"We've never seen kids having this much fun,"she said. "The kids are motivated and we can challenge them andtake their work to a whole other level. The higher we raise the bar,the higher they want to go."
Rules that work
The pilotstructured itself in an "Academy" model, where students andparents sign a compact that promises attendance, hard work, a dresscode, and involvement and participation in learning.
Thecompact includes a three-strikes/you're out clause as well. If astudent runs afoul of the regulations three times, they return to oneof the traditional middle school classes. So far, since September,only three first offenses occurred and none of those grew into secondoffenses. Kids, it seems, thrive on clear and highexpectations.
Pride in accomplishment has become a mantraamong the Academy's pilot students, who have even embraced the dresscode and idea of dress for success to the point where participantsare talking about school uniforms for next year.
Much as happened with the 8th grade pilot, the 6thgrade academy has already garnered such strong support that thedistrict intends to extend it into a full middle academy for grades 6and 7 next year.
The school says it encourages students of allabilities to apply and it provides structural support helping thosewho need additional academic background. The point of the academyisn't to be exclusive, staff stressed, but to be inclusive ofstudents who are willing to work by the Academy compact'sexpectations.