PERU — Peru Central School District is working to better serve the social, academic and emotional needs of its seventh- and eighth-grade students, officials say.
“As we have evolved with our so many years of budget reductions and the restructuring of the district, one of the school components that really has lost an identity is that really unique adolescent age of what is either considered middle school or ... middle-level education,” Peru Secondary School Principal Christopher Mazzella said during a recent School Board meeting.
Mazzella was Peru High School principal until March, when the district’s middle and high schools were combined to create the Secondary School. He and former Peru Middle School Principal Cheryl Felt, now associate principal of the Secondary School, have been collaborating with faculty and staff to establish a plan to better support the building’s seventh- and eighth-graders.
That plan, Mazzella told meeting attendees, calls for the implementation of teaming structures, which would involve dividing the seventh- and eighth-grade populations into smaller groups of students who would work with teams of teachers from multiple disciplines.
This would allow teachers to collaboratively support students, he said, rather than work independently without much opportunity to communicate about their needs.
“Within the teaming structure, the teachers would be able to work together on co-curricular projects, (and) they would have common planning time,” Mazzella said. “They would actually be able to have a group of people to make the transition for the kids stronger.”
Peru Middle School successfully implemented a teaming structure in the past, he added, but was unable to maintain the model it was using due to budget cuts.
The goal for the future, Mazzella noted, is to create a successful model using what resources the district has available.
“One of the things that has evolved with the lack of the structure of teams in middle school is a lot of the curriculum has not stayed united and has been overlapped,” he said.
For that reason, the initiative also calls for the development of multidisciplinary curriculum, which, Mazzella noted, will involve both teachers and students working together on projects that draw from multiple subject areas, as well as the sharing of concepts and skill sets within curricular programs.
“Kids have to have a blend and a combination of courses that work together,” he said.
A class schedule must also be developed that can facilitate the teaming structure and multidisciplinary curriculum, which, Mazzella added, won’t be easy.
“That’ll be a challenge because we’re sharing staff from the High School, but we believe it can be done, and we have a lot of teachers willing to look at all sorts of models to try to make this happen,” he said.
Planning and coordinating for the initiative began over the summer, and teacher subcommittees have been established for each of its components.
The coming months, Mazzella said, will be spent researching middle-level teaming models, visiting other schools with such models in place and developing one for Peru Central.
“Once we understand how the teaming will work, we’ll have to work out the scheduling,” he said.
And curriculum development, Mazzella added, will always be ongoing.
The hope is to have the teaming component in place for next fall, he said.
However, implementing the entire initiative will be a multi-year process, and the school’s faculty and staff are aware of that.
“They realize that we’re going to have to take small steps to make this system work,” Mazzella said.
Having a strong middle-school structure in place, he told the Press-Republican in a separate interview, is an important part of helping students find their niches and become lifelong learners.
“It’s such a crucial age for the development of these kids,” he said.
PCSD Superintendent Dr. Patrick Brimstein expressed his support for the initiative during the meeting.
“I really want to applaud the work that Mr. Mazzella and Mrs. Felt have been doing with regard to recognizing the middle-school philosophy needs to be restored in a way that helps our students grow socially and academically and emotionally,” he told attendees.
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