Middle school offering more course options

Published 9:34 pm Monday, October 2, 2017

By Sarah Kocher

Southwest Middle School has expanded in two ways.

First, it has increased the amount of school periods in a day from six to seven, and second, it is filling those periods with more course options.

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“As a faculty, we spent a lot of time addressing what would be the best thing to do to address those additional needs we have in reading, in writing and in math,” Southwest Middle School principal Steve Kovach said to the school board in its meeting Monday night.

Although most of the added courses are for seventh-graders, two mandatory classes, Communications 6 and Geometry 6, help sixth-graders further explore those subjects every other day.

“Every sixth-grader has an extra math scoop and an extra Language Arts scoop,” Kovach said.

Additionally, each of the elective classes were built to incorporate writing standards.

“It’s one way we could expand our writing across the curriculum, and we knew that that was a big need for us,” Kovach said.

The remainder of the added courses are electives that expand offerings in art, science, physical education and social studies. Kovach said the goal was to add at least one section in each content area. Additionally, the transition to a seven-period day puts the middle school’s day in line with the high school schedule.

Furthermore, board member and retired teacher Neal Skaar said he is excited to see some of these course offerings because the “cafeteria of really exciting subjects” and electives could serve as an introduction to areas of vocation that don’t require higher education.

“There are tons of jobs in our community that employers are having trouble filling because there aren’t enough applicants,” Skaar said. This menu of higher interest classes is an opportunity to invest in those interests.

According to Skaar and Kovach, the remaining difficulty — ”and this is not going to go away,” Skaar said — will be for students with foreign language and music classes to work these electives into their schedules.

“It’s just a scheduling difficulty,” Skaar said.

Students who take math and reading intervention courses will also operate with less elective opportunity, but Kovach said with more periods in the day, taking time away from elective courses will prevent students from missing core classes instead. This, he said, could turn these electives — he cited a Robotics elective as an example — into a sort of incentive for students to improve their core proficiencies.

“That was the other thing: trying to use this as maybe a carrot for kids to maybe work a little extra hard to make sure they can have their choices while also maybe getting their intervention, too,” Kovach said.

Skaar put it a different way.

“You can’t have dessert until you eat your asparagus,” he said.

Also at the school board meeting, Halverson and Hawthorne elementary principals Johanna Thomas and Judi Vitio both presented updates on school initiatives to improve student reading and math performance.

The board voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding on the amount of contact time teachers have with students during a standard school day.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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