Advocacy for continued Middle Level Funding
Middle Level Programs for the 21st Century
The Vermont Association for Middle Level Education was created in 1989 to provide support for teachers and administrators of early adolescents. The old model of the junior high school, with its short periods and reduced time for personalization between teachers and students, no longer matched the needs of this age group. What we have today in most Vermont middle level programs are developmentally responsive teaching practices that combine academically challenging, integrated curricula with project-based learning, providing a dynamic, student-centered learning environment.To assure that students engage in critical and creative thinking, teams of teachers work together to present dilemmas posed by real world problems, with plans that are connected to the standards in the State Frameworks. It is no longer enough to be able to answer a question on a test; students must also know how to ask the right questions.
At a time of accelerated growth and development, early adolescents are at a ‘turning point’ in their educational process. Research has identifiedprograms that promote maximum intellectual engagement and provide students with a voice in their education. Choices in projects geared to multiple intelligences assist students in understanding their individual talents and skills at a highly self-conscious time, and allow teachers to build on their students’ strengths.When today’s middle-schoolers finish high school, theywill need some form of postsecondary education to prepare them for happy and productive lives in the 21st Century – jobs of the future have not yet been identified. What we know is that the future work force will need technology, thinking, and reasoning skills, and have the ability to integrate the knowledge from many different fields. Students’ ability to apply present knowledge to new situations will give them flexibility for these yet-unknown jobs.
The Vermont Association for Middle Level Education, with collaboration from the Middle Grades Collaborative and the Department of Education, recently published a benchmark document, Middle School Is Not a Building. 10 goals for all stakeholders are clearly outlined with action plans laid out to accomplish the responsibility we have before us – to make sure that all students are provided the opportunity to do their best work. Keeping the 10 goals as the ‘ends in mind’ for early adolescent education, we must safeguard the programs that will keep students engaged. Team teaching, advisory programs, integrated curricula, flexible scheduling – these are the hallmarks of middle level programs.
We must build on the strengths of these research-based practices and be thoughtful about consolidation plans. While it is not essential that all communities have a middle school, it is essential that schools have designated middle level appropriate programs.
Middle School Is Not a Building outlines the specific programs for this age group, and provides a planning tool for each community.
In transforming education in Vermont, we must pay attention to the ‘critical middle,’ and build on our strengths as we make the hard economic decisions going forward, being mindful, as Commissioner Vilaseca states, that “the voice of the middle level student is the voice of all students, preK-16.”