Highlights of Exemplary Practices Aligned with the 18 Characteristics of Successful Middle Schools
Characteristic #4: School safety is addressed proactively, justly, and thoughtfully.
Farmwell Station Middle School has two specific programs in place to encourage and support students and to develop a safe and inclusive learning community. The first is PBIS, which has 4 basic tenets (Strive to be and do their best; Own their own behavior, mistakes, and successes; Achieve to the best of their own ability; and Respect themselves and others) with the acronym SOAR. These tenets are taught directly to students, and they are provided with examples of what it looks like to SOAR. SOS (Sources of Strength) is a youth suicide prevention project that utilizes the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture, ultimately preventing suicide, bullying, and substance abuse. There is an SOS staff leadership team that provides training for teachers and coordinates activities and advisory lessons.
Characteristic #7: The school collaborates with community and business partners.
Farmwell Station Middle School has several initiatives that enable them to contribute and collaborate with community. Lead4Change allows Family and Consumer Science students to participate in a nationwide competition that encourages students to find ways to make positive contributions to their community. As a result, students create leadership projects to support a specified need in the community. The school was recognized for providing necessities to Afghan refugees in the county. Another example is a paper product drive for a local homeless shelter.
The Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day saw a team of female professionals from Microsoft do a presentation for female students about engineering career paths and experiences, as well as leading hands-on activities related to STEM fields. The school collaborated with Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) to organize a live contact with an astronaut of the ISS. The Loudon Amateur Radio Group supplied HAM radio equipment and experts to teach students about sound transmission and the technology needed to make a live audio contact to the ISS. Aerospace Corporation came to the school to teach students about aeronautics and space concepts.
Characteristic #9: Curriculum is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and diverse.
Farmwell Station Middle School offers Honors level courses, high school mathematics and world language courses, and provides rigorous learning experiences across all classes and content. Staff have been provided with professional development around what rigorous instruction looks like in classrooms and how to deepen content understanding and increased student outcomes as a result. To this end they utilize flexible grouping, student voice and choice, open-ended driving questions, performance assessments, use of technology, multi-leveled engaging text and media, extension and enrichment activities, and curriculum compacting. Every student has access to multiple resources to deepen their learning experiences. The media center has a wide variety of printed and digital research tools, as well as areas where students can come together and collaborate. The media specialists collaborate to design, facilitate, and co-teach lessons with the English content learning teams to provide enriched learning experiences.
They also have participated in professional development around personalized learning as well as project-based learning and utilize those strategies to enrich learning activities. Student reflection and goal setting are a normal course of instructional practice.
Characteristic #11: Instruction fosters learning that is active, purposeful, and democratic.
At Farmwell Station Middle School the faculty engages students in making connections between content and the world around them. Through personalized learning practices such as reflection and goal setting, students develop the skills of inquiry in learning. Teachers learn about their students’ interests, strengths, and goals and use that information in designing lessons that allow student voice and options. Students participate in authentic learning experiences that are designed to be engaging, promote higher-level thinking skills, and foster a sense of ownership over their learning. The lessons reflect critical life skill development as well as content knowledge and understanding. They focus on tasks and activities that build students’ capacity to think critically, be creative, collaborate and communicate with staff as well as peers, and make contributions to the world around them. Computational thinking strategies are reinforced across subject areas, and a combination of self-directed and collaborative opportunities ranging from small group discussions to programming robots that support learning objectives further engage students in active ways in their learning.
Characteristic # 12: Varied and ongoing assessments advance learning as well as measure it.
Farmwell Station Middle School follows an assessment cycle that includes formatively assessing students during the learning process. Teachers then adjust instruction to address identified learning needs prior to summative assessments. Students meet with content-area teachers during resource time for reteaching opportunities to ensure students have mastered the material prior to retakes. A variety of assessment tools are used to monitor student growth. Math and English teachers administer the MAPS assessment three times a year and use the data to measure student growth to see if they are meeting projected learning targets. Science and social studies teachers use common assessments in Performance Matters to measure growth three times a year. In the classroom teachers use frequent check-ins and formative assessments during learning and prior to all summative assessments. In addition to traditional tests and quizzes students are given opportunities to choose how to demonstrate their learning in various ways. A resource block of time allows students to get extra help to master content, receive instruction, retake assessments after reteaching, and receive needed remediation. It also provides opportunities for gifted students to take a course that provides for higher level thinking skills, problem solving, and decision making.