Curriculum changes proposed for middle school, junior high

Friday, September 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:45 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 22, 2009

COLUMBIA — A separate health class addressing subjects such as nutrition, substance abuse, mental and emotional health, human sexuality, and diseases would be added for sixth- through eighth-graders under a proposal discussed Thursday by the Columbia School Board.

Other proposed changes include no longer requiring eighth- and ninth-grade band students to participate in marching band and reworking the social studies curriculum for sixth- and seventh-graders so that it’s taught chronologically rather than regionally.

In Columbia, students in grades six and seven attend middle school, and those in grades eight and nine go to junior high school.

Area curriculum coordinators for the district presented the proposed changes, and the board will vote on them next month.

Sara Torres, science and secondary health coordinator, described middle school as a crucial period for developing personal habits because of the rapid physical changes taking place. She proposed that health be taught as a separate course rather than incorporated into the science curriculum, as it is currently being taught.

Fine arts coordinator Deborah Jacobs said removing the requirement for students to participate in marching band would allow for more instructional time for further development of musical skills at the middle level. She said studies show no musical justification for offering marching band at that level.

Also at the 7:30 a.m. work session, board members shared ideas for thevision and direction of the 2010 summer school program. After six years of outside operation, the district plans to run the program next summer.

“Summer school should be used as an opportunity to bring students up to where they need to be,” board member Ines Segert said.

Board member Christine King relayed community suggestions that at the high school level the focus be not only on college-bound students but also those entering the work force after graduation. She proposed having representatives from local businesses speak to students about skills needed to succeed in various fields.

To increase academic achievement and foster student-teacher rapport, board member Karla DeSpain proposed summer school students be taught by the teacher they will have the following school year, with special emphasis on the most at-risk students. Another idea suggested was that students be paired with the teacher they had previously.

“It’s one thing (for a teacher) to know your scores, it’s another thing to know you as a learner,” said Sally Beth Lyon, chief academic officer.

Board members noted it won't be possible to pair every child with a familiar teacher, because not all teachers teach summer school. Additionally only air-conditioned schools are used for summer school.

Member James Whitt expressed concern regarding measuring the district's success with the summer school program. Lyon responded by saying the district wants to come up with an assessment that helps ascertain students' progress and make sure they are on track with the school district's curriculum.

DeSpain also said that kindergartners through third-graders should receive particular attention because if they are up to speed by then, they have better chances for future academic success.

Superintendent Chris Belcher said the board will need to explain to parents that there are more benefits to the program than the $100 gift card incentive offered by Edison Learning, the private vendor the district has previously used. Under the law, that incentive is no longer an option if the district runs summer school.

The district will still offer meals and be a place for children to go during the day, benefits Belcher said are important for parents to know when deciding whether to send their child to summer school.

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