Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

One of my English-teaching colleagues here at Culver City Middle School created a verb out of me. She says that, when I grab hold of a topic I am passionate about, for example, when I am looking to lead some kind of change for the better, I tend to gather lots of details, and write e-mails in long-winded prose to my colleagues and the powers that be, and then I expect people to actually READ those e-mails…she calls it “Morrising” a subject.

I am often considered the “go-to” person for getting stuff done, but, I have had to learn to be briefer in my e-mailed correspondence, and now, given the opportunity to actually be a featured writer, well, I guess I can “Morris” to my heart’s content! This week’s post is about what I consider to be a major accomplishment I’ve been part of at our school: our GATE Advisory Program.

In 2011, Culver City Middle School changed their bell schedule, so that four 30-minute periods were created within the existing school week. Although originally intended for intervention, so that “no child would be left behind,” as the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) Program Coordinator, I proposed using that same period of time to create a program for the students who, conversely, and by definition, scored consistently at the highest levels on the California State Tests.

My next step was to figure out how the time would be used. What would I do with our almost three-hundred students (roughly 20% of the entire student population of our school) during that time period? It did not make sense to create new or additional electives (which already included Japanese, Spanish, Art and Computer Animation), nor could the program be so exclusive that complaints from the other 80% of the population would arise. Instead, we needed to come up with something that required gifted students to step up to the responsibility that comes with superior intellect, but at the same time served the entire community.

In my last article, I mentioned the two cultural concepts that I believe have influenced my thinking: “continuous improvement” and “perfecting the world.” Based on a desire to find ways to enhance every student’s experience at our school, I devised a survey of activity choices designed for the overall betterment of the school and local community. Among the selections at the time were: recycling, school beautification, peer tutoring, an events and festivals committee, and a group that would create one large-scale dramatic performance. I believed that these activities could be run by the students themselves, under light adult supervision. I also believed that leadership had to be “organic;” instead of electing “club presidents,” I insisted that jobs that arose would simply be done by those who desired to do them.

Once students had the opportunity to make their choices, the next step was encouraging my teaching colleagues to agree to supervise students in their classrooms. I will be forever indebted to a few key colleagues who believed in this idea, and stepped forward to allow sometimes raucous activities to take place in their classrooms. Colleagues who were used to quiet classrooms endured, and continue to endure, radical changes in the school’s culture.

Year Two of this program, presently coming to a close, saw more participation from students and teachers. Our program was chosen by our principal to present to the District School Board, to rave reviews and promises of continued support. The “performances” group put on a Broadway musical with box office receipts in the $1000’s, the Recycling group raised over $100 from bottle collection, connected with the district Sustainability Committee, and was featured on a local news broadcast, just last week. A Student Court was established, along with a unique system of jury duty – just to name a few of this year’s accomplishments.

For the 2013-14 year, we have reached out, for the first time, across our five elementary schools, to over one hundred incoming 6th graders who qualify for this program. Three new programs will be established: Publishing Company, Debate Team, and Book Club. We are receiving daily inquiries from local parents who have decided to send their children to our school, so that they can take part in these amazing feats of student achievement.

This has caused a systemic change. Already, more students and teachers and parents are “getting into the act.” Next year, our English Language Learner population as well as our first generation college-bound students (AVID) students will have special Advisory programs, and various Interventions will also be in place for our struggling students. All students, while participating in these activities, will also receive the Olweus anti-Bullying program. The English-teaching, lover-of-acronyms in me calls this our AEIOU (Advisory, Enrichment, Intervention, Olweus Universe) program.
In my next post, I will share about an amazing travel experience: my “roots” trip to Poland in 2011.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

1 Comment

  1. Your new programs are amazing and shows what can be achieved when teachers and students are allowed to use their own initiative.

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