Teachers excited about ideas

Published 9:18 am Tuesday, September 2, 2008

September is a time of new things at area schools: new textbooks, new teachers, new pencils and new students. But a few teachers at Southwest Middle School are looking forward to new programs that will better equip them to help their students.

Heidi Venem, special education teacher, underwent training for the “Love & Logic” philosophy of helping students. Venem said it’s a philosophy of how teachers can build relationships with students, creating more time to teach and less time dealing with behavior.

“It’s not as much of a program as it is a lifestyle,” she said.

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The basic idea, according to Venem, is to hand the problem back to the student so they learn to be problem solvers. Everyone stays calm and focused so teachers don’t take on student problems.

Venem went to a conference over the summer to learn more about the philosophy, while other teachers in the building attended one-day conferences in the past.

Industrial technology teacher Casey McIntyre, who also teaches at the high school, is excited about Albert Lea High School’s Project Lead the Way courses.

“It’s exciting to be able to be deeper in the subject matter and offer a high level design course for students,” he said.

Project Lead the Way will consist of more in-depth courses on engineering and the subjects that feed them — including science and math. This will be the first year the high school offers the course.

McIntyre said what he does at Southwest leads into Project Lead the Way.

“That’s phenomenal that our kids get exposure to that,” said Jennifer Henschel, a reading teacher at the high school.

Henschel said she is excited for the Response to Intervention program in the coming year. The program helps teachers reach out to kids “slipping through the cracks” that don’t qualify for special education. These students could have emotional or mental problems that prohibit them from focussing on learning.

Response to Intervention would “give them the help that they need,” Henschel said, through research strategies aimed to help them succeed and catch up to the general student population.

“We need to catch them now and give them the help that they need,” she said.

All teachers had training days on Response to Intervention, but Henschel went to additional training.

“It’s exciting, and I can’t wait to try out these techniques,” Henschel said.

Southwest was approved for a grant aimed at funding career components, which would help counselor Lynn Keenan implement new career-oriented initiatives. She said she plans to have more career exploration, connect students with job shadowing and to on field trips to expose kids to various workplaces.

“We have a great staff. They work extremely hard about meeting kids’ needs,” she said.

Overall, Keenan said she is excited to meet the incoming seventh-graders.

“I’ve heard great things about the group coming up,” she said.

Keenan said whenever back-to-school time comes around, she is reminded of a quote someone told her years ago. Parents and last year’s teachers essentially are telling this year’s teachers, “We’re sending you the best kids we have.”

From there, Keenan said, Southwest staff takes those students wherever they are and move them forward.

Students said they are looking forward to seeing their fellow students and new teachers.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new friends and having good grades,” said new eighth-grader Marleny Huerta-Apancl.

Eighth-grader Taylor Jensen said she’s looking forward to “just seeing everyone back.”