These are not your typical middle school elective courses.
The Case of the Missing Millionaire. Musical Metaphors. Board Game Blast. Road Warriors.
And you won’t find class titles like these in the curriculum guide.
Multiplication Rap. Random Acts of Kindness. Cryptography: Codes, Ciphers and Encryption.
However, you will find these classes and 56 more options for students in the new Eagle Enrichment program at Independence Middle School (IMS).
“Every grade level and every student participates. It’s like a study block,” explained Carey Manugo, IMS principal. “Every lunch period has a half-hour for Core Plus which we converted into Eagle Enrichment. We want to maximize while they are here. Not every student can stay after school for activities.”
Manugo stresses another point that’s contributed to the program’s success. “It’s all interest-based.”
Teachers designed the elective mini-courses they wanted to teach and thought would interest students. Students selected their favorites from dozens of options by grade level and select a new option each nine weeks.
“We have a learning garden outside. At lunch you’ll see the walking club. The dance group was learning how to do double dutch. We have ballroom dancing in eighth grade. There is a crime solvers club and they did a crime scene investigation with police tape. A music class was beating on trashcans for drums. The teacher is in a band outside of school,” described Manugo while walking to Natalie Lebo’s classroom to see the living art museum sixth-graders created in her Eagle Enrichment class.
“Mona Lisa,” called out Lebo as Manugo entered the classroom, “I need you to stand over there.”
“I need Andy Warhol over here,” she directed.
Once the museum was set parents were the first guests to tour the room, listening to students dressed in costume discuss the famous works of art they recreated. A class of students followed as museum visitors.
Sixth-graders Lauren Winn and Jessica Dionne explained the grid technique they all learned in order to create the artwork themselves from a blank slate.
Winn signed up for the mini-course because, “I’m a really artsy kid.”
Dionne said, “I’ve always been obsessed with art.”
A passion for art is why Lebo, an IMS special education teacher, created the mini-course.
“I love art and I wanted to share my love of art with the students,” she said. “I thought it would be a great way to expose them to art history and to give them a chance to be creative and just kind of go through the process of what the artist did to make the masterpiece. It gives them an appreciation for the process. Also, they got to work with partners and there was a research component which was really great.”
It has been a positive experience for Lebo, too.
“It’s a great way for me to use my gifts for something that’s a little different, and I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Meeting new students who are not in her instructional classes is what Cameron Cook, a sixth-grade social studies teacher, has enjoyed.
“These are not all my sixth-graders. So, it’s great that I get to know them and can address them in the hallway by name,” Cook said.
Students in her Eagle Enrichment course “Board Game Blast” got to know each other, too, as they played what Cook called “good old fashioned board games” like checkers, Battleship, Scrabble and Connect Four.
“I’ve had these board games and I’ve wanted the kids to play them but there was never an opportunity really,” she said. “I know that it’s good for kids because, socially, they have to practice working together, getting along and problem-solving.”
Manugo also likes that Eagle Enrichment allows teachers and students to interact with new people and form relationships outside their core instructional teams.
“When we were in teams, straight teams, it was the same kids. It was just one bell to another bell to another bell to another,” he said. “We draw from so many elementary schools, like nine different schools. They definitely meet different people.”
In addition to meeting new people, sixth-graders in Lisa Hughes’ “Random Acts of Kindness” mini-course experienced ways to support others and establish positive relationships.
“I’m trying to get them understand the full picture of everything,” Hughes said. “Often times they are so used to looking through their own lens, their own perspective. As an English teacher I want them to be more empathetic. I want them to learn to be empathetic and feel the emotions of those characters.”
Hughes added they even discussed how they can use kindness to rebound from bad days.
“We always highlight the positive. No matter what you’ve done, now what can you do,” she said. “We always say, ‘Spread joy.’”
Throughout the first nine weeks they left cards and treats for IMS office staff, custodial staff and cafeteria staff among other activities. The principal was even surprised by random acts of kindness.
“I came in and saw my mailbox stuffed with a whole bunch of letters from students thanking me for keeping them safe,” Manugo said.
“You put a big smile on my face when I walked in and saw my mailbox, so thank you,” he told the class on the last day of their first mini-course.
Students hoped to put smiles on more people’s faces with their final notes of the course.
Hope Woodies made a card for her Spanish teacher, writing, “Thank you for all you do. You have always helped me to do great in school and now I am better than I’ve been before. Thank you so much. Love, Hope.”
Jacob Tillet said his card was for “the Awesome One,” his older sister.
“I’ve noticed in my life she’s done a lot of kind things for me. She’s supported me. She’s done some basic kind of things, like making dinner. And the basic stuff builds up and makes you feel nice,” he explained.
One student began a letter to her estranged father that she considered having Hughes help her deliver, while another student wrote a letter to process the recent death of a family friend.
The depth of emotion evoked from the course was eye-opening for Hughes and for the students’ themselves.
“Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of getting to know these kids,” she said, “and figuring out ways that they can make a difference in somebody’s life, big or small, you don’t realize that in the process of them doing that, they learn about themselves.”
Empathy. Kindness. Gratitude.
Important lessons learned in a 30-minute mini-course.
“I just think when you’re kind, everyone else is going to be kind, and it’s going to make the world a little better,” reflected one sixth-grader. “And I think that’s really important.”Tell your friends! Follow us!