OXFORD — A nontraditional middle school necessitated a nontraditional learning experience for students this year, Oxford Hills Middle School Principal Troy Eastman told school directors Monday night.

The result, he said, has been exciting for both staff and students.

“It’s been transformative,” Eastman said. “We were willing to change.”

From learning about town government to how to create and sell eco-friendly houses to devising transportation to inhabit another planet, students are engaged in learning, he said.

In March, SAD 17 directors approved leasing a building on Madison Avenue in Oxford to ease overcrowding at the Middle School on Pine Street in Paris.

But school officials said the move also meant revamping the curriculum. The staff worked throughout the summer to create a themed trimester system. Themes are comprised of humanities, visual and performing arts and STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The new program didn’t set different academic standards; students still receive instruction each day in math and language arts instruction.

About 150 students are enrolled in a themed trimester program at the Oxford site, while the remaining 250 students are in a themed program at the Paris campus. Staff and students are rotated each semester. Almost all of the 91 students receiving special needs services are also involved in the “quest” days of learning.

Students and teachers told the directors that the change has been a success.

“We get hands-on learning,” said one student, who spoke about activities such as developing solar heating panels for Roberts Farm Preserve, developing and trying to “sell” an eco-friendly house and other activities.

“We learn how to be a good citizen,” said Brianna Jenkins, whose “quests” this semester are partly centered on the development of town governments.

The school is partnering with businesses and individuals who assist in providing hands-on experiences for the studies. They include New Balance, the Celebration Barn Theater, Market Square Health Care Center and Art Moves dance studio.

“This is one of the greatest things that has ever come to (Oxford Hills Middle School), said Casey Barton, who is developing a website with a friend that encourages young artists to share their talents on the Internet. As a student of new media, he said the learning opportunities at the school have allowed him “to learn so much about different things.”

Teacher Kyle Morey said on quest days, he believes he has 100 percent attendance in his seventh-grade classes.

“I really think we’re off to a great start this year,” he said.

Assistant Principal Tara Pelletier said the curriculum is also based on Habits of Work and Learning, which stresses the character traits of respect, responsibility and perseverance.

Parents will be able to see the results of the new learning experience in November, when they will be invited to the two campuses to see the results of the new programming. 

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