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Lifelong Learning

Horizon East to focus on meeting student needs

April 6, 2017

Next year grades 7-8 students at Horizon Middle School East Campus will follow a modified schedule to better meet student needs during the school day. Additionally two innovation pilots are planned: a grade 8 cross-curricular offering and a grades 7-8 combination house designed as an Innovation Academy.

The Moorhead School Board heard the report from the Horizon East Task Force last month. During the fall of 2016, the Horizon East Task Force, comprised of teachers, parents and administrators, continued the planning work that began in 2015 with the Grades 5-8 Middle School Task Force. In December, the School Board heard recommendations for the grades 5-6 school from the Horizon West Task Force, which met in 2016.

Similar to the Horizon West Task Force, the Horizon East Task Force used the guiding principles developed by the original grades 5-8 middle school task force. The task forces also followed similar committee goals.

​Both task forces focused on these guiding principles:

  • Providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.
  • Developing close, trusting relationships between students and adults while increasing engagement with learning and fostering positive self-esteem and a sense of belonging.
  • Providing a student-centered learning environment with varied instruction to meet individual student needs and actively engage students in their learning.
  • Providing a rigorous standards-based curriculum focused on innovative (integrated) learning experiences.
  • Providing Professional Learning Communities: Interdisciplinary teaming and content teaming designed to meet the needs of individual students through collaboration.
  • Embedding professional development opportunities.
  • Making fiscally responsible decisions and investing in long-term, sustainable solutions.

“One of the first things we did was to talk about what attributes we wanted eighth-graders to have when they went to high school,” said Jeremy Larson, principal of Horizon Middle School.

The task force members worked in groups before combining their ideas into the five themes for Horizon’s portrait of a learner. Themes are empathy/tolerance, self-advocacy/self-awareness, learning to fail/willing to take risks, inquiry/critical thinking, and citizenship/sense of community. These themes were reviewed against national middle school research to ensure completeness and then used to shape the task force’s work.

Additionally, current Horizon teachers were surveyed. One of the more significant needs was for a schedule that allows for interventions and program offerings to meet the needs of students. Task force members took the original task force recommendations and the survey results to focus on these priority areas: Response to intervention (RtI), connection time, instructional class period length, house size and programming. The task force considered house sizes and various schedules to determine what might fit with the portrait of a learner.

According to Larson, the current six-period day fits most of the needs. However the task force decided to recommend a modified schedule. Three days a week will be a six-period day; Tuesday and Thursday will be eight-period days.

Team time for teachers and Response to Intervention (RtI) time for students are being added to the eight-period day schedule. Every student will have a class period for enrichment or support interventions, or houses could schedule that class period for shared learning opportunities. With the eight-period day, students will have both their music and physical education classes plus their core and exploratory classes, all for a shorter class period.

“We don’t want music to conflict with intervention,” Larson said. “The eight-period day will give that flexibility.”

To reduce the house size and class size, a combination house with both seventh- and eighth-grade students will be added for the 2017-18 school year. Students will loop from grade 7 to grade 8 within the same house. The house will look at teaching a little differently and implement an Innovation Academy, Larson said. Many details still need to be finalized for the Innovation Academy pilot, including determining how students will be identified this spring to be included in the combination house.

The second innovation pilot is to teach language arts and social studies as a cross-curricular literacy offering for one eighth-grade house. Students will have two classes on their schedule, but the social studies and language arts teachers will co-teach the classes, expanding opportunities for collaborative work and allowing students to see the natural connection between literacy and global citizenship.

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