Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Where eagles soar

GMS Principal Jennifer Rucker

For those of us educated in the last century, grades 6, 7, and 8—now called middle school—were probably not the best years of our lives. Things have changed for the better.
Principal Jennifer Rucker graciously took time from her busy schedule to give GOMM a peek at the workings of Goochland Middle School, whose mascot is the eagle, as part of American Education Week. Named a “2016 school to watch”, GMS is one of the top 144 middle schools in the country. That is the result of hard work by amazing teachers supported by administrators and our school board.

Each school day morning, Rucker greets the nearly 600 GMS students as they arrive for their daily dose of education. Her career path began in higher education. After working at the high school level to better prepare students for college, she moved to middle school, where, she believes, it all begins.

Students begin their school day by walking under their mascot, the eagle.

At GMS, the old basics of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic are enhanced by robotics, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and more subtle skills including collaboration with other students.

Glimpses into classrooms revealed students—girls and boys— learning about foods rich in Vitamin A, part of a curriculum that includes conflict resolution and other domestic skills.

Students used their iPads—one is assigned to each student at GMS—for a myriad of learning related activities.

Multi charger keeps all the iPads humming.

In a STEM class, students created organisms and habitats that would support them, then presented their work to the class. In another class, Minecraft is used in collaborative “scrums” where complimentary skills combine craft solutions. In yet another, geography came to life on the small screens as young fingers deftly maneuvered images on a screen.

Devices are at the command of dexterous fingers and minds in pursuit of learning.

Gym class, which stretches both muscles and minds is more low tech. Students ran circuits around the gym collecting a clue to a Thanksgiving saying and a letter that is part of seasonal word that would be revealed at the end of the session. The kids were active, let off some excess energy, and had fun.

Tried and true educational traditions are also alive and well in the classroom of English teacher Ms. Ray. Her students diagram sentences on paper the old-fashioned way. They also collaborated on a collection of short stories featuring characters Gooch and Glenda. R them here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-E15YKnk70sy9lioYU2RR_OgzCgojCHmNLc76gKFUGQ/edit.

You can almost hear the hum of young neurons firing as they seize knowledge from these experiences. Cross disciplinary instruction is in every classroom. The ruler straight rows of desks of yore have been replaced with groupings of students sharing skills and encouraging each other to the conclusion of a problem. Students were engaged as they sought the satisfaction of a task well done. Best of all, it seemed like pretty much everyone was having a good time.

But it’s not all tapping on computers. Robotics students learn to use the lathe by making beautiful wooden pens. Crafting paper airplanes with rubber band propellers teach aerodynamics. Band saws and power tools are used in many classes.
These pens are a part of the robotics curriculum.

Band saws and power tools are used in several disciplines. This is not your father's shop class.

Rucker acknowledges that middle school can be a difficult time for students, but the entire staff at GMS works hard to help every student thrive. Counseling and testing is used to identify students struggling in an area and provide appropriate remediation. Posters cautioning against the evils of drugs and alcohol are prominently displayed, hopefully planting the seeds of an important message in impressionable minds.

Academic excellence is only part of the GMS educational experience. Rucker said that GMS aims to create a supportive environment that does not tolerate bullying and encourages kindness.

The world is changing at a whipsaw pace. Learning to learn may be the most important skill our kids need to thrive in their future. Many will have careers that have not yet been invented. GMS is pointing our kids in the right direction.

Please visit the GMS website http://gms.goochlandschools.org/ to learn more.

1 comment:

Beth Hardy said...

Thanks for this great article about Goochland Middle School! We are very proud of the success of our middle school students. GMS has an amazing leadership team and the teachers at are dedicated and talented. GMS is a real point of pride for Goochland!