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03-15-03: No more clanging and banging in halls
St. Henry school will end bells and crowds between class periods

The Daily Standard

    ST. HENRY - St. Henry education officials will change the normal school day for about 400 students next year when it initiates a true middle school concept.
    Presently St. Henry Middle School operates as middle schools nationwide have for years - on a high school format. They teach to the bell.
    Bells ring. Kids flock through the halls to the next class where they spend 43 minutes. Next bell. Three minutes to get to the next class.
    "Middle school students - ours include fifth- through eighth-graders - have unique needs, five through seven particularly. They're right out of elementary school and it's a big change," said St. Henry Middle School Principal Julie Laipply last week following the Middle School Reform presentation to board of education members.
    The middle school reform is a way of organizing time, which gives teachers more power over the daily agenda.
    Time periods will be flexible because instruction will determine the length of periods. The teachers will work in teams with common planning times allowing a number of benefits to students and staff.
     Testing schedules will improve, as it has at Minster Middle School where the concept has been in practice for the past two years.
    "All our sections take tests at the same time. For example, a few years ago we'd be giving the same math test to different classes twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. Well, I don't have to tell you that those afternoon classes would have a pretty good idea what was going to be on the test," Minster Middle School Mike Lee told The Daily Standard Friday morning.
    Now, at Minster, all math sections take the same test first thing in the morning.   
    Another testing advantage is, because teachers have common planning time, students won't be bogged down with several tests on the same day.
    Lee said his school has experienced lots of positives. Most outstanding is the "flexibility in scheduling and instruction."
    "Our staff members are getting more acclimated. After 15 years of teaching in the same style, change isn't always easy. But we did a good job of researching before we started (the middle school concept) and we've seen many more advantages than disadvantages," Lee said.
    Laipply and Sherry have also done their homework and two years of research.
    Most important for St. Henry, they say, is the benefits to the students. This is a time of tremendous growth physically, emotionally and socially.
    In fact, outside research shows adolescents ages 11-14 experience more intense change than at any other time in life except for birth to three years old. Pre- and early teens learn better by interaction and activity rather than just sitting and listening.
    A big boost to the new program is that St. Henry teachers are eager to get going on it.
    "We had thought we would phase it in over a number of years. But our teachers are excited and said 'let's do it all next year.' It will mean big changes. Our teachers are used to teaching just one grade level. But all are willing to make the change," Sherry said.


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