Middle School Curriculum Offers Students More Options

Londonderry Middle School students are getting a taste of high school with a peer tutoring program and an option to do an eighth-grade culminating project.

Principal Richard Zacchilli and Curriculum Coordinator Ann Collacchi appeared in the Jan. 17 School Board meeting to discuss updates to the Londonderry Middle School curriculum.

Zacchilli said no new courses are planned for 2017-18. The school has added a number of options over the past few years, including a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) arts course for sixth-graders and a Creative Computing and Media class elective for grade eight.

All three grades take classes in the core subjects of Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies, Zacchilli told the board. In addition, sixth-graders have a reading component, and seventh-and eighth-grader take either reading or begin studying French or Spanish.

All students take Physical Education and Music along with units in Art, Computers, STEM and Health. In addition, Zacchilli said, eighth-graders have electives, the Creative Computing or Tech Ed.

In PE the emphasis is lifelong fitness, Zacchilli said, with segments on snowshoeing and bicycle riding.

Collacchi said one successful newer program is the eighth-grade seminar, modeled on Londonderry High School’s Senior Project elective. “They have a lot of autonomy,” Collacchi said, “in topic, pace, choice of mentor and how to demonstrate what they’ve learned.” The program started last year with 12 enrollees, 11 of which made it to the end and presentation of their projects.

This year 21 students have enrolled, with projects ranging from building their own computer to filmmaking to creating a Web site for family history, she said.

The teachers chosen as mentors are “thrilled,” according to Collacchi. Other projects, such as a girl’s research into interior design, require community mentors who are also eager to volunteer.

Collacchi also reported on the Student Assistant program, a variation on peer tutoring introduced last year. In Student Assistant, seventh-and eighth-graders who are strong in a content area are invited to visit another classroom and coach less-proficient students. “They need academic skills and also interpersonal skills,” Collacchi said. “They need to understand the privacy of the students they’re working with. And they need to be independent and self-motivated.”

The program started last year, with three eighth-graders helping out in science classes. This year seven seventh-graders and three eighth-graders are helping out in math and science, she said.

The students need to be recommended by the prior year’s teacher, and they need to have parental approval, Collacchi said, because Student Assistant will take them out of one of their own classes. The decision is made judiciously, she said. “A student can be pulled from Physical Education if they’re active in sports, or from music if they took it in sixth grade,” she said.

Chairman Nancy Hendricks asked about the new math curriculum, Math In Focus, now in its third year. She has not seen any hard data on its success, she said.

Collacchi said Math In Focus is the primary math program for all three grades. Some seventh-graders qualify for pre-algebra and some eighth-graders for algebra, she said, but for most of the students it’s Math In Focus.

“Anecdotally, teachers have told me they’re pleased on how far they are able to get in the curriculum with this program,” she told the board. Recent eighth-grade testing found LMS ahead of the state — and ahead of the country, she said.

Mary Wing Soares, an LMS teacher and faculty representative to the board, said, “I use it in the eighth grade and the kids are ‘eating it up.’ They understand concepts more clearly.”

Board member Leitha Reilly said, “A lot of questions have come up about math and reading, in recent years. We are addressing it in a way that is unique to every child, but still allows teachers to teach the fundamentals.”

Reilly said she is pleased that while students who struggle are being worked with, “Kids with a super grasp of the subject are allowed to charge forward.”

She praised the “marriage of technology and achievement in education” and said, “We are doing a better job.”

The board voted 4-0 to approve the curriculum plan.

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