As you are aware, the continued growth in the Avonworth School District has placed a strain on our facilities on the secondary campus. Hallways and facilities are becoming increasingly cramped as our grade level sizes grow. Although increasing enrollment is a great problem to have, it certainly causes stress within the system.
Last spring, the District announced that starting with the 2017-2018 school year, the 6th grade would move back down to the elementary school. I say “back” down because at one time, many years ago, the 6th grade was located in the elementary school. Some parents who attended Avonworth may recall this.
I have had the wonderful opportunity to speak to many parents over the past several months to gain their thoughts about what they like about the 6th grade program. Certainly, I have a great deal of pride in the program as I was the Middle School Principal when we instituted the current master schedule design that enabled us to establish true interdisciplinary teaming. Because of this the Middle School has been recognized as a Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn School to Watch due to its dedication to academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, and social equity.
Some of the things I have heard from students and parents includes how much they value that students in 6th grade are able to change classes and see different classmates in different classes. They also like the independence that students have felt as they are able to travel from class to class without being escorted by their teachers. Most importantly, they have enjoyed the teachers in 6th grade and the care that our educators have placed on the transition from the elementary to the middle school.
As we have been busy building the 6th grade program, we have taken all of these thoughts and feelings into account. Next school year, the 6th grade will have six sections, with each teacher responsible for teaching one subject. As is the case currently, the core academic subjects will be English Language Arts, reading, social studies, math, and science. There will be two sections of math, however, to afford students additional numeracy instruction. Unlike their previous experience in elementary school, students will not travel with the same students throughout their day. As is currently the case with 6th grade, teachers will be encouraged to collaborate and integrate content and to use time and space flexibly. As we continue to evolve our program, we will look to integrate skills based subjects such as English Language Arts and reading with content based classes such as social studies and science to increase rigor and relevancy.
The curriculum is being mapped for the future and will include PSSA “eligible content,” PA Core Standards in the disciplines, and Next Generation Science Standards. As we gradually integrate content areas, there will be pre and post-testing on the learning outcomes, mini-lessons, direct instruction, project-based units, and individual work. Combining skills-based disciplines in the future like reading and English Language Arts with content heavy standard disciplines as social studies and science will allow students to apply skills in relevant ways. This model has been implemented successfully and has a proven track record, including in New Tech Network schools that have supported this model for over 15 years at schools throughout the country. Avonworth is partnering with the New Tech Network and with the Children’s Innovation Project, both groups which will provide resources and professional development for our teachers.
In addition to the core academic subjects, the students will have specials courses including physical education and health, computers, art, music, and library. Band will be offered during the school day and individual lessons will be a part of the program as well. We continue to work with the master schedule to ensure that all four grades are coordinated with one another and that the specials courses that will be offered are properly staffed as well.
Speaking with the 6th grade teachers, they also feel strongly about establishing their own identity at the elementary school. Each grade level is unique and special. 5th grade has Camp Kon-o-kwee, which has traditionally been a rite of passage for students. While I firmly believe in honoring traditions, I also believe in establishing new ones and the 6th grade is planning to do just that. We have some really great ideas that are connected to the curriculum that I will keep you in suspense about right now as we are not quite ready to reveal them!
Over the course of the school year thus far, the 6th grade teachers have spent time at the elementary school to also ease their transition. Dr, Griffith Substitute Elementary Principal, has involved them in professional development and general building planning so that they can begin to assimilate into the culture. Classrooms have been assigned, and furniture and technology needs have also been identified. Most importantly, the teachers have been building relationships with their colleagues.
Just as 5th grade had previously served as the transition year to the middle school for Avonworth students, starting in 2017-2018, 6th grade will now take on that role. Rest assured, the same transition activities, including move up day, will take place to ensure that students are successful as they enter the secondary campus.
With retirements, teachers transferring to positions within, and adding new staff due to enrollment, we are in the process of defining teaching teams on all levels. Preparation for the 2017-2018 school year will continue this spring and into the summer. A future parent meeting will be advertised to specifically share additional information related to the 6th grade transition. As always, please let me know if you have any questions or thoughts to share.
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