The release of the recent state report card has cast a spotlight on student achievement across the state as measured by the state standardized tests. Millburn Middle School continues to fare well on the eighth grade test, and I believe these results reflect the commitment of our teachers to provide effective instruction in the content areas in a way that meets, or exceeds, the core curriculum state standards. The report card, however, does not capture the kinds of enrichment opportunities that our school district and P.T.O. sponsor for our students that extend and support learning through creative residencies and educational presentations.
I speak of those opportunities for our students to use their imaginations to create a work of writing that expresses their own ideas and even a bit of themselves. For example, the Cultural Arts Committee sponsors residency programs each year so that teams of students can learn from a “visiting expert.” In the sixth grade students spend four days in a poetry residency where they learn how to write poetry and are inspired to create their own. Seventh graders embark on a short story residency. This is a chance for them to try on a style and genre, create a conflict, develop characters, and apply descriptive writing tools. In the eighth grade students switch classes so that they can have a focused language arts residency with each of the three eighth grade teachers. This began a couple of years ago with Mr. Oppel’s playwriting project, a residency that continues to have student scripts read on our stage by our teachers at the end of the school year. These plays offer dimension to the real life issues and dramas that play out at home and in school.
The P.T.O. continues to fund the political cartoonist residency in the eighth grade as well, a creative opportunity that affords pupils the freedom to use their sense of humor to depict a political situation in a satirical or humorous manner.
This year the science department sponsored an assembly program about physics and chemistry in everyday life, and in past years programs in art, music, and social studies have enriched the learning for our students. The world languages department sponsors cultural activities, for example, for the Day of the Dead, and other celebrations such as International Night. A dance residency has long been a part of the offerings in sixth and seventh grades.
Team teachers also invite parents and other members of the community to speak in classes or to the whole team in the areas of their expertise, profession and travels as they connect to the curriculum. Some of these topics have included the United Nations and South Africa. Team activities often expand on the themes being studied, such as by sponsoring Earth Day events, Shakespeare Day, etc.
Our cycle classes expose students to the fine and performing arts, computer skills and applications, leadership qualities, public speaking and writing, and foods. Eighth grade elective courses are even more specialized and allow students to invest time in the study of law, film, American presidents, Holocaust, theater, foods, singing, graphics and web page design, and photography. Our guidance department plans a comprehensive and inspirational career day and other lessons on the topic of “learning about learning” and study skills.
I feel that it is important for students to have a variety of experiences and to explore their own interests, and I am certain that these enrichment experiences engage both sides of the brain, reinforce and extend content learning, and motivate and help our students increase their achievement. It is these opportunities that set us apart, yet they are not represented in those “bottom line” numbers on the state report card.