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School Board Approves New Middle School Teaching Concept

By Staff | Feb 26, 2008

With a new Middle School building going up, it’s no surprise that a new style of teaching students will also be implemented. The “pod” style of teaching is making its way to Emmetsburg.

The Emmetsburg Community Schools Board of Education met Feb. 18, in the library at Emmetsburg High School to discuss the “pod” concept and to give their approval to this teaching style for middle school students in grades 5-8.

According to Superintendent John Joynt, students at Emmetsburg Middle School presently follow a junior high concept–much like a high school plan–where they change classrooms every 47 minutes. A middle school concept is similar to an elementary style of education in which students stay in one central location.

“The students stay in their home-base more, and teachers have time to meet and plan strategies,” said Joynt. “The Middle School Reform Team began researching this vigorously last year. It’s time to make a change if we’re going to make a change.”

Joe Carter and Sarah Brugman, members of the Middle School Reform Team–which also includes Kay Kibbie, Matt Pugh, and Jay Jurrens–explained the “pod” style of teaching.

“The middle school concept is not a new idea,” said Joe Carter. “You can research it back to the 1960s when it started in schools. Most middle schools are in that concept now.”

Carter explained that the team started to research it when the school bond issue first arose. About three years ago, the group began visiting other new middle schools in the area like Sheldon, Cherokee, and Spirit Lake.

“We looked at new buildings and brought back all these new ideas,” Carter shared. “One of the big things that came from the staff was the ‘pods,’ which is how the new Middle School will be organized.”

Carter referred to the fact that middle school reform is being initiated by the state of Iowa.

“We’re in the first year of middle school reform,” noted Carter. “It is a state initiated reform process. It’s basically a response to the changing kids and the changing demands that kids place on education. We’re new at that, we’re learning about that.

Middle school reform is the researched methods and ideas used to help students achieve at their highest level.

Carter explained that “teaming” is a big part of the change.

“Teaming fits the construction of the new middle school. There will be two pods–a fifth and sixth grade team and a seventh and eighth grade team–and our staff will be organized in that way. We’ll have core content teachers for both pods. Each team will be made up of a science teacher, social studies teacher, a math teacher, and a language teacher. That’s what each team will have.

Carter noted that “teaming” provides a chance for educators to collaborate and talk about students, the needs of students, instructional strategies, and discuss solutions to problems. Cross-curricular, interdisciplinary ideas will also be made possible because of the pod design.

“It’s a great way to discuss the needs of students,” surmised Carter. “One of the greatest things about this plan is that every teacher will teach reading. There will be a huge emphasis on reading at a higher level than we are now.

Carter said the schedule would cause staff realignment with one special education teacher located in each fifth/sixth grade pod and seventh/eighth grade pod. An opportunity will also exist for the expansion of exploratory courses. The “homeroom” period would be approximately a 20-minute period at lunchtime, and would provide a time for silent sustained reading.

“We’re hoping to use some of that 20-minute period for interventions,” said Sarah Brugman.

“The schedule still may be tweaked as needed by the staff,” added Jay Jurrens.

“What would the kids be doing during the ‘teaming’ period?” asked Board President Karla Anderson.

“That’s when the kids will be in the exploratory activities like P.E. and music,” answered Carter.

“This schedule actually increases P.E. and music time,” said Jurrens. “Right now, kids at the Middle School have it every third day. The new schedule would have these classes every other day. I think that really falls in line with health and wellness recommendations.

“Are you looking at starting this next fall, although you won’t be moved into the new Middle School yet?” asked Anderson.

“Yes, we’ll be starting it this fall,” answered Brugman.

Don Hagen, board member, then made a motion to approve the new Middle School concept. The board gave their unanimous approval.