UNION — Those involved in a pilot program at Sims Middle School say students are making great strides as they are offered a second chance and an opportunity to experience success.
One year ago, the Union County School District announced the launch of a pilot project known as “School Within a School,” which was to take place during the current school year. The concept was to target students — based on attendance, discipline, grades and other characteristics displayed in the classroom — for a class to focus on preventing failure in high school.
“The heart of the program will provide intensive ELA support through a block focusing on bringing students up to grade level in reading and writing,” said Instructional Coordinator Tabitha Talley, during an interview last year.
Now, the School Within a School is in place, and according to the students and teachers involved, the program is working.
“The School Within A School program has been very beneficial for our students,” said Sims Middle School Principal Mickey Connolly, who mentioned that several of the students have been recognized for making honor roll and exhibiting good behavior in school. “We are seeing students experience success academically and socially.”
A normal day at school for the 11 young men who participate in School Within a School is the same as other students at Sims Middle School, but most of their work — with the exception of activity classes such as P.E. or art — is completed in one classroom. English/Language Arts teacher Aldonza Thomas works with students each day, providing extensive support in the way of reading and writing and bringing students up to their respective grade levels. During the rest of the school day, teaching assistant Cayse Jeter serves as a proctor, helping students with science, social studies and math classes which are taught virtually by other teachers in the building through edmodo.com. Edmodo allows students to view coursework and post questions to their teachers. Each student has an Edmodo account and access to a laptop.
“Our goal is to make sure we provide the appropriate materials to continue to help them reach their full potential,” Thomas said. “They are very bright young men, and we encourage them to do their best. Based on what we looked at with scores from MAP (measures of academic progress) testing and some of the benchmark testing, they have made great strides. We are very pleased to see that.”
The students have one-on-one conferences with Thomas in which they look at their scores and progress, and they are able to set goals and ask questions. Thomas said many of their scores had increased, and she feels it is due to the smaller class size and one-on-one time. She said the students have become competitive academically.
“They want to be number one and want to do their best,” Thomas said. “That’s good for them to have that competitive spirit and want to be the best.”
She pointed out that one student in the class — Quay Moorman — won a career-themed school poetry contest. She also pointed out that class members are looking forward to submitting their work to be published in the upcoming District Anthology.
“We’re excited that, for once, many students — who wouldn’t have been able to get a chance at winning a poetry contest or writing contest, or having their work published — are getting the chance they deserve,” Thomas said.
Jeter mentioned that in addition to standard curriculum, the class also works on another major component of the program — character education — in which they work on areas such as social skills and team building. The textbook used for the character education portion of the program is “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” by Sean Covey, which teaches teens about traits such as taking responsibility and good decision making.
Jeter pointed out that students also learn accountability in the classroom.
“They have jobs they have to do before they can go to lunch,” Jeter said, offering the example of cleaning a designated area of the room. “They aren’t responsible for having books and other things like other students in the school, so this way they have their own responsibilities they are held accountable for.”
The class is also about to begin a readers’ theatre project in which they will read a play and eventually perform the play for other classes in the school.
Thomas and Jeter said they have witnessed improvements in the way of discipline, as well as academics.
“Many of these students have been able to get a second chance and go from misbehaving to having most of the year with no discipline issues,” Thomas said. “That’s awesome!”
Jeter pointed out that some of the students who were not eligible to play sports at the beginning of the year, regained eligibility mid-year and competed, with some of the students playing multiple sports.
Each of the students also has a mentor from within the school or local community, and students meet with their mentors for encouragement and setting goals.
Students also weighed in on the effects of the new program. One student — Anthony Edwards — said his class and his mentor — Sims teacher Billy Ponder — are helping him stay out of trouble.
“I haven’t been written up this semester,” Edwards said. “There are less students in the class, and we stay away from the majority of students — stay away from the wrong people. Mr. Ponder comes over here and I can go to his classroom any time I want so he can help me get caught up on my work.”
“It’s good because I don’t get in trouble as much,” Thomas Murphy added, explaining that there aren’t as many distractions for the class since they don’t participate in changing classes in the hallway as much as other students.
Another student in the class — Dabareon Scott — is close to making honor roll, and teachers say he has improved across the board.
“I got in a lot of trouble last year,” Scott said. “This year, not so much.”
Devin Richards said his classwork is easier to organize this semester because he does not have to keep up with multiple folders and notebooks since he is virtually in one class all day.
Thomas Murphy said he appreciates not having to rush from one class to the next and worry about being late.
“We have Edmodo where there are some tests that are on the computer, and some we do in our folders,” Murphy said. “Since I came here (School Within a School), I’ve spent most of my time on pulling my grades up and working hard.”
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at email@example.com.