BETHEL – When Sandra Schroeder began her position as the Telstar Middle School principal almost a year ago, she decided to take a year to look, listen and learn.

Then she decided to do something about the low standardized test scores sixth-graders received once they left their elementary schools. It didn’t seem to matter whether the former fifth-graders came from Andover, Bethel or Woodstock elementary schools. The good scores they had earned in elementary school dropped an average of 10 percent.

Last week, she unveiled a plan aimed at encouraging students to become more engaged in their schools, as well as to keep their minds limber over the summer months. On the school’s last day of school on Thursday, each child in grades five, six and seven was sent home with a summer project to be completed and turned in when school starts in September.

That is just one of the ways she, and Superintendent David Murphy, hope to keep the young minds working, and to improve their scores on tests that will be taken next year.

She has also rescheduled the teaching hours for the art, physical education and music teachers so that youngsters can stay after school and pursue something that may interest them. Activities such as pottery, digital photography, guitar, yoga, intramural sports and a multitude of other events will be offered.

To provide the extended hours, three teachers will work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., rather than 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., which enables youngsters to participate in the activities after school. The students can then be taken home by their parents, or stay at the school in the Mahoosuc Kids after-school program and catch the 5 p.m. bus home.

“Our goal is to get the students involved in school at an early age,” Schroeder said.

The district also received federal funding to hire two additional Title I teachers, up from only one position, to provide additional assistance in reading and math to those who need it.

The staff at Telstar Middle School are also required to teach a 30-minute skills class each day in math or language arts.

In this class, students are grouped according to skill, not grade, Schroeder said.

For the first time, students can also attend summer school where they will receive help with their assignments or any subject that gives them difficulty. Teachers will also receive more training in the different ways middle school students learn – compared with students in elementary or high school.

“Every lesson has to have a real life application,” Schroeder said.

Teaching in the elementary grades involves a lot of structure and decisions made for the students. For high school, the emphasis is on the abstract, and students must make more of their own decisions. For middle-schoolers, classes are a combination of abstract and structured learning, as well as a time to learn how to make decisions, she said.

How well the multi-pronged program works will be assessed as the school year progresses. Then standardized tests will be administered in 2010.

Parents met with school officials last month to learn about the new program, and fliers were sent home with all the students.

“We’re providing every opportunity we can think of to access a safe, structured learning environment to provide them with some success,” Schroeder said.

About 210 students attend grades six, seven and eight at Telstar Middle School.


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