Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #3: Every student’s academic and personal development is guided by an adult advocate.
Oceanside Middle School has an Advisory program that meets daily with the express purpose of providing students with an opportunity to develop a trusted relationship with an adult advocate in a non-academic setting. Activities include building positive peer relationships, investing in a sense of community, and developing positive social and emotional competencies. All staff members participate in this program. Some of the activities that occur include the creation of a quilt where each advisory contributed a square with a quote from Martin Luther King, Penny Wars to support Breast Cancer Awareness, Valentines for Veterans, and a handmade Poppy display to celebrate Veterans Day. Staff members are provided with targeted professional development to guide them in their role as adult advocates.
Characteristic #5: Comprehensive counseling and support services meet the needs of young adolescents.
Oceanside Middle School has a comprehensive counseling program designed to provide support services for all students. Each team has a counselor whose role is to promote relationships and a sense of belonging, while also providing support services for students and their families. Students meet with their counselor in small groups every six days for Group Guidance, which is based in a curriculum centered around developing positive SEL competencies and addressing relevant school topics in a safe and supportive environment. This initiative supports and enhances relationships between students and their counselor. In addition, counselors facilitate Restorative Practices in an alternate classroom setting. This provides a proactive structure for students who are struggling to engage in school due to anxiety and other SEL issues. Another important support service at Oceanside is SPRIGEO, an anonymous reporting service aimed at maintaining a safe and caring community. Each student has as an app on their iPad that they can use to anonymously alert adults if a student is concerned someone might hurt themselves or others. This is part of what is known as the Sandy Hook Promise, which is introduced to each student by an administrator and students’ Social Studies teacher during a co-taught lesson.
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse.
All students at Oceanside Middle School participate in an accelerated math program that allows them to earn high school credit in mathematics. 8th graders also can earn additional high school credits in courses such as world languages (Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese). The school has a robust exploratory curriculum for all these students, taught by high school teachers. Courses offered include Science Research, App Creation, Virtual Enterprise, Music Theory, Theater Exploration, and Studio in Art. In addition to these offerings, all students at Oceanside participate in Family and Consumer Science, art, technology, STEM, health, music, and physical education. Academic classes are team taught and include challenging experiences rooted in hands-on, active learning opportunities. Interdisciplinary teams meet daily to plan curriculum integrated units of study. Literature plays an important role in interdisciplinary studies. Each year the staff chooses a book as a schoolwide read aloud to encourage dialogue surrounding issues relevant to young adolescents.
Characteristic # 17: Professional learning for all staff is relevant, long term, and job embedded.
Oceanside Middle School has a robust professional learning program for staff. All probationary teachers are required to participate in 20 hours of PD each year, ten of which are mandated and another 10 that are self-selected. Tenured teachers must engage in 10 hours of professional development. Mandated hours include unpacking state standards and becoming familiar with the middle school structure, programs, and philosophy. There is a robust offering of other initiatives from which teachers may choose, including work around SEL, Advisory, maximizing the potential of teaming, the implementation of instructional apps, diverse instructional strategies, health and well-being, and Restorative Practices. These opportunities are facilitated by staff developers outside the school such as the Teachers College of Columbia University and New York State Education Department representatives.
Characteristic #18: Organizational Structures foster purposeful learning and meaningful relationships.
Oceanside Middle School has a strong teaming component that is a central structure in the school. Students are assigned to heterogeneously grouped teams and loop with those teams and teachers throughout their time at the school. Each team includes ELA, Social Studies, Science, Math, and Special Education teachers as well as a School Counselor. These teams are designed for relationship building and a sense of belonging, providing small learning communities in a large school. They also serve to promote strong and positive peer and adult relationships, as well as strong home school partnerships. Looping maximizes instructional time, provides a seamless transition between grades each year, and enables teachers to be well versed in curriculum at multiple grade levels. A flexible block schedule accommodates changing schedules based on curricular needs at a given time.