Middle school reviews gather information

November 11, 2008

By Chantelle Lusebrink

New programs and ideas may be circulating in the halls of your child’s middle school soon.

School district and PTSA officials concluded a series of meetings Nov. 5 that gathered information from 46 students, teachers and parents about each of the district’s four middle schools for the Middle School Experience Project. 

The goal is to evaluate the quality of students’ experience in middle school by identifying their physical and emotional needs, development and peer culture.

“We are not doing a program review,” said Ron Thiele, associate superintendent. “It is a way to find out what experiences our middle schoolers are having in each of our buildings, and a chance to find out what other schools are doing, and considering those.”

It has been nearly 20 years since in-depth information about middle schoolers experiences, since the district switched from junior high schools to middle schools, has been gathered.

However, officials have continually looked at program offerings at each middle school, Thiele said.

The project came about from the districtwide PTSA council goals, which identified looking at the middle school experience before the district converts Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus into its fifth middle school in 2010.

“Historically, middle school is a place where kids fall through the cracks,” said Nancy Campi, co-president of the districtwide PTSA council. “We want to focus on the basic core of what makes a middle school student and how we can help make that experience positive.”

Campi and Alison Meryweather, another co-president, said the goal is not to blame schools but to better educate parents, teachers and students about those middle school years and best help students develop, in and out of the classroom.

The data collected can be used in a lot of different ways, Thiele said. 

In conversations with students, the group found that many students are happy with their teachers in middle school, and that both staff and parents would like more volunteer opportunities in schools. 

School officials also found out about student support programs offered at each school. Issaquah Middle School has a yearlong mentor program where each sixth-grader is paired with an eighth-grade leader, who acts as a peer resource. 

Pine Lake Middle School officials discussed their Sisterhood of the Traveling Lunches program, which brings female students and staff members together for lunches to discuss contemporary feminine issues, such as peer pressure, individuality, societal objectification and image.

New information about students’ desires for all-weather sports fields will go to the district’s next bond and levy committee, Thiele said.

“We are looking at the data and what we’ve learned is that there are lot of great things at our middle schools,” Thiele said. “Our middle schools are a really good place for kids, but we are always looking for things that we can do to improve.” 

“By listening and working together, to find out about what is happening at other schools, and sharing our ideas and broad perspectives, we have helped our middle school students,” Campi said.

The group also collected data from an online survey of parents, students and staff members.

They may also ask current fifth-graders what they are looking forward to or are worried about in their transition to middle school. Similarly, they may also gather data from high schoolers who recently completed middle school, Thiele said.

By late winter or spring 2009, Thiele will write a summary report of the group, its work and any recommendations from it.

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