A School Year Full of Possibilities
A new school year creates the perfect backdrop to imagine the potential that lies ahead. A dedicated group of educators, students and community members are imagining just that as they consider innovations to the middle school experience.
The Reimagining Middle School (RMS) Committee has begun a substantial task to develop suggestions for how a “reimagined” middle school experience could look and feel, and how innovations would impact the development and well-being of students. The committee, comprised of parents representing each comprehensive district middle school, current middle school students, teachers, administrators and school and central office staff, is led by Teaching and Learning Director, Dr. Melisa Macias. Dr. Macias has held multiple roles in the district — most recently serving as Principal at Phantom Lake Elementary School. She has been an educator for over fifteen years.
Design Thinking to Re-Think School Design
During the RMS Committee’s first meeting in August, the group began by unpacking why they were embarking on the journey to innovate the middle school experience. Members identified barriers that were revealed during the recent pandemic, global challenges students will face, the significance of developing whole-child wellness, and the value of instilling a greater sense of belonging.
The group discussed how by utilizing the equity design process, they could begin to see the barriers as opportunities. Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that allows the committee to understand the needs of students, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovations that can result in a more personalized learning experience. Design thinking allows for greater feedback and the ability to reiterate based on the way recommendations affect each stakeholder.
Data Driven by the Heart
RMS Committee members plan to utilize a wide array of tools to approach their work. Visioning took place at the second committee meeting as participants reflected on the questions, “What do we hope for students as they go through middle school? What do our middle students need?” “What would you include in the design of your dream middle school?”
Caption: Examples of the visioning work. Participants reflect on the prompts. Phrases capture how some students may experience middle school and what they may wish to see in a reimagined experience.
The committee has also reviewed data capturing the current student experience including: sense of belonging, social emotional and behavioral function and mental health (utilizing the BIMAS-2 screener), attendance, grades, and grading data. Their work is guided by evidence-based best practices and the research of Penny Bishop and Lisa Harrison, authors of The Successful Middle School.
Utilizing all of the tools at their disposal, the committee will continue to unpack the research, co-design with stakeholders, and iterate through multiple phases in order to develop a model.
Collaboration on the Path to Innovation
Ultimately, the Reimagining Middle School Committee is charged with providing input and recommendations to the superintendent. However, they are not waiting until the recommendation is finalized before seeking authentic and extensive input from students, families and staff. The work of the committee will be augmented throughout the process by one-on-one interviews and focus groups with a variety of stakeholders.
“The middle school years represent an opportunity for young people to find their voices, discover and develop their interests, and develop longstanding relationships. This effort will imagine a new kind of middle school where young people engage in innovative, personalized learning experiences, both in and out of school, to capitalize on and build their cognitive and social emotional capabilities. We have an opportunity to improve the school culture, build more trusting relationships with students, and empower them to take greater ownership of their learning.
Together, we can create a dynamic and powerful force to advance new ways of thinking about how our BSD students will reimagine their middle school experience!”
– Dr. Melisa Macias, Reimagining Middle Schools