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Monroe Middle School goes through metamorphosis

Monroe Middle School principal Montrio Belton discusses the placement of a wall mirror (to be placed in the school’s new dance classroom) with dance teacher Stephani Hartman, a 13-year veteran teacher.

Monroe Middle School has seen changes in the past (becoming part of the county schools; becoming a year-round school), but nothing like the metamorphosis that is currently taking place.

When the school bells rang-in the start of the 2011-2012 school year, Monroe Middle School students entered classrooms that either had a focus on science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) or the visual or performing arts.

All 906 of these middle school students were given the opportunity to request which area of focus they wanted in these academic learning communities. Sixty-five percent requested visual and performing arts, while 35 percent requested STEM.

“If students in the United States are going to be able to compete with their cohorts internationally, we have to deepen our level of understanding in science, technology, engineering and math,” said school principal Montrio Belton.

More than 1,000 parents and community members attended the school’s open house Thursday (July 21, 2011), during which the academic learning communities were introduced. Students were also able to meet their teachers and get their schedules.

“I want the community to understand the positive ramifications that this type of initiative is going to have in the life of the students at Monroe Middle School,” Belton said. “If you look around the country at what researchers are writing and educational prognostics are saying, there is a scarcity of individuals with a deep background in science, engineering, technology and math.”

One of the first orders of business in making changes at the school was to make certain Monroe Middle’s 57 teachers were highly qualified to teach these new areas. Five teachers went on to get dual certifications, joining a number of teachers at the school already certified in multiple areas.

There was also some movement of teaching positions to accommodate the new curriculum. “If we needed a bio-tech teacher and we had an extra social studies teacher, we traded out the social studies teacher with a bio-tech teacher,” Belton said.

The school’s transformation will not cost additional funding. “We were all keenly aware that the current economic conditions would not create additional revenue to make this happen, so we had to be very innovative and creative and figure out ways that we could do it,” Belton said.

“We have not had to go to the pot for additional funding, with the exception of some capital improvements to the classroom that was our choral classroom. We converted it to a dance studio at a nominal cost,” Belton said.

The staff at Monroe Middle have all pitched in and gone the extra mile to make this happen, Belton said. “I have been so exhilarated by the positive, ‘can-do’ spirit that has been exhibited by the staff here, which tells me they really believe in the direction that we’re attempting to go. There’s been a lot of collaboration and teamwork by our staff.”

Belton said another goal is to offer a seamless transition to those students who come from schools like Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts, which offers visual arts, theater and band. “Coming to Monroe Middle will allow those students to become further indoctrinated in those areas of study,” he said. “Then just think about what will happen to those students when they go on to high school. That child cannot help but be a master musician or a performance-ready dancer.”

After middle school, students will be able to move on to one of the feeder high schools in the Monroe district, which already has programs that will allow students to continue their educational focus.

“Some of our students will pursue opportunities at Monroe High School," Belton said. "Then there are those who will attend Central Academy of Technology and the Arts. We have a smaller number who will go to Union County Early College.”

Monroe High School, for example, has the Bridge Academy that can offer drafting classes for engineering students.

Belton said this is just the beginning of Monroe Middle’s metamorphosis. “We are basically just charting the path for what Monroe Middle School is going to look like in years to come,” he said.
 

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jul 27, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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