|Meet Me in the Middle
Author: Jennifer VanBuren
Spring is here and that means…time to make choices for the coming fall! You might think it’s too early to be thinking September (or August, really), but fifth graders across the state are already planning; current middle-schoolers will begin plotting their course as well, since each new grade presents different choices than the previous years. Students lay the groundwork for the future with the courses they select in middle school. As parents, what can we do to help?
Parents can start by being informed guides. For starters, read this article all the way through, then check out middle school course selection booklets to learn specific information about your school. If you are feeling particularly curious, you can scroll through the Texas Education Association (TEA) guidelines found online.
TEA lays the foundation for middle school programs. “The district must ensure that sufficient time is provided for teachers to teach and for students to learn English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, health, physical education, technology applications and, to the extent possible, languages other than English.”
Middle schools, like all schools within Texas independent school districts, must follow the state requirements for courses that follow standardized curriculum guides (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS.) Beyond that, districts and individual schools may tailor their programs to suit the needs of students. Beginning in middle school, students are able to make choices in their schedule to fulfill the state requirements as well as explore their own interests.
All middle school students are required to complete grade level math, science, social studies and language arts courses. While these are required, a choice is usually given between levels of study. Pre-advanced placement (pre-AP) classes are designed to challenge motivated students. They are more rigorous and provide knowledge and skills that will prepare students for advanced placement (AP) classes in high school. High school students can earn college credit by taking AP classes and passing the standardized test administered by the College Board.
Students will be placed in pre-AP classes based on TAKS results or parent signature on choice sheets. In some cases, students identified as gifted and talented (G/T) must be registered for pre-AP classes in the area(s) in which they have been identified in order to maintain G/T designation and receive G/T services. Students who choose these classes should be willing to take on the challenges involved. If your child would like to take pre-AP courses but has not been recommended by the school, you and your child can meet with your child’s teachers or guidance counselor to discuss options and determine what is best for your student.
While the choice to enroll for a pre-AP course is generally up to the student and parents, historically, students who have been successful in pre-AP level classes have had several characteristics in common:
•Reading on or above grade level
• Strong study skills
• Good oral and written communication skills
• Self-discipline needed to plan, organize and carry out tasks to completion
Interest in the subject
The state mandates at least 30 minutes per day of structured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in middle school or junior high (grades six through eight or seventh and eighth, depending on the district). Physical education (P.E.) programs vary from district to district.
Sixth grade students usually take regular P.E. classes, while in seventh and eighth grades, students have other options. Many districts allow students to substitute their P.E. classes with athletics, dance or an off-campus physical education equivalent program. In order to substitute competitive sports for P.E., the student must be first approved by the coach. Athletes learn grade level P.E. curriculum during the off-season.
Once standard classes have been scheduled, students have choices. In many schools, your child will be given exciting opportunities, especially seventh and eighth graders. It may even feel overwhelming, but you can encourage her to think about where she would like to be in eighth grade and even high school, and map out the steps to get there.
There can be prerequisite courses that must be taken before a student can sign up for an advanced class. Encourage her to look at the seventh and eighth grade course selections and determine if there are prerequisite courses that need to be taken. For example, if she is interested in taking a course in robotics, she may have to take a prerequisite technology education course or she will miss her chance in eighth grade.
Beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, Texas students were required to take at least one fine arts course during grades six, seven and eight. The required course curriculum must be based in the fine arts TEKS. There are middle school TEKS for music, art and theater. Schools may provide opportunities for students to expand their experience in the arts with additional and specialized coursework, but all students must complete one of the standardized classes. Students can choose to follow a continual thread, such as orchestra for all three grades, or to explore different options. Just remember, to get into the advanced programs in eighth grade, the prerequisites must be taken.
There is no state requirement for language study in middle school. However, learning a new language can broaden a child’s cultural appreciation. Learning a second language is great exercise for the brain and helps learners to look at their primary language in a new light. Most colleges require two years of language study, and many middle schools offer that first year to give your child a head start. Your child can also take an exploratory course that introduces students to the world of languages. These classes provide an introduction to basic communication in each language, a look into how English is related to those languages and a study on the cultures of the language being studied. From this exploration, students may get a sense of which language they would like to study in-depth.
While there is a standardized set of knowledge and skills (TEKS) middle school students are to have met, districts have the flexibility of offering technology applications and computer literacy in a variety of settings, including a specific class or integrated into other subject areas. Check-out the offerings in your child’s school as most offer stand-alone computer and technology classes in addition to applications used in other core courses.
As a student progresses through his educational career, more choices and opportunities will be presented.
The skill of analyzing options, making choices and evaluating decisions made are just some of the many life skills that will be offered to a middle school student.
Jennifer VanBuren is a former middle school teacher and mother of three boys (one of whom is headed to middle school next fall!).