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National American Education Week: Nichols-Lawson Middle School


SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Like his counterpart, Pinecrest Elementary School principal Debbie Barnett, Nichols-Lawson Middle School principal Gary Rivers is new to his school. The two dedicated educators switched positions at the beginning of the school year after years in the Sylacauga City School system.

“We are in partnership with families in the community to prepare graduates who are ready for college, career, and community success,” said Rivers, citing the SCS mission statement. “Our motto here is ‘commitment to excellence’.”

Alongside assistant principal Paula Bruno, the duo has worked hard to ensure the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are ready for high school. Bruno installed the “Champions” theme to focus on nine virtues, one for every letter in the word.

“We’ve covered two so far: courage and honor. For honor, students did postcards for parents and teachers.” Bruno said the next is ‘attitude’ geared toward promoting positive behavior in schools.

Rivers added that he’s proud of what’s happening at NLMS, with procedures and policies in place to ensure things operate like clockwork, from analyzing how students arrive to school to how they sit in the gym during assemblies. “We build lesson plans for these procedures,” he said. He meets often with fellow teachers and staff to make sure everything is running smoothly and will make changes accordingly.

The veteran educator said NLMS is an AMSTI (Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative) school allowing students to learn about science in a variety of hands-on ways. Aside from grant-driven education, Rivers said students experiencing special classes and learning about new topics already in place has been exciting to watch.

“We do the Nichols-Lawson News which we show during lunch,” said eighth grader Adalyn Conn. Conn and her friend Ella Kate Brooks are in the journalism class. “We do the newsletter which we give out every time we get a report card, and we also make the yearbook.”

“I just like that we learn stuff that we wouldn’t learn in any other class here…like doing interviews and stuff,” Brooks added.

Rivers said a new, major addition to the course of study is a dedicated middle school band and choir teacher. Former teacher David Simpkins, who retired at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, split his time between the high school and the middle school. Now, Samuel Childs is at the middle school teaching Beginner Band, Intermediate Band (7th and 8th), Jazz Band, 6th Grade Choir, and 7th and 8th Grade Choir.

“[It’s about] pushing them to reach their full potential,” said Childs. “There are a lot of talented kids in here. The biggest thing is trying to convince them that they have to practice outside of class.”

Down the hall from Childs, Career Tech teacher Brett Fleaman educates students on careers they might not be aware of at a middle school level.

“I’m helping the middle schoolers explore careers,” said Fleaman. “[At the middle school level], you don’t typically think about what it is you want to do when you grow up. At the high school level, we are offering so many things with engineering, business, health science…these kids going into the high school don’t know what they want to take. My job is exploring the different career clusters.” Fleaman said the course is filled with special guest speakers and field trips.

“We’ve designed furniture so far,” said project Lead the Way instructor and seventh grade science teacher Justin Browning. “We have designed a game for kids with mobility issues like cerebral palsy. They’re going to be designing a playground. They’re working in pairs. They can add anything they want.” Browning’s Automation in Robotics and Design in Modeling class allows students to use a CAD-like software to create a projects on which they will be graded.

Mandy Reams, Wellness Coordinator for SAFE Family Services Center, teaches Fitness Theory and Application. She said the fun group fitness Success Class is based on much of what she has learned in her professional life as a wellness and dance instructor. “Two days a week, they learn fitness theory, and the other three days of the week they apply it. Whether it’s learning the muscles of the body…they learn two different exercises to work it, one exercise to stretch it, and then they have to apply it. They love it. They love it,” she said.

However, grant-based learning is important to Rivers and the rest of the faculty and staff at NLMS, too. Rivers is proud of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) initiative for kids who might be first generation college-bound students.

“This class basically helps you become college-ready…so you can be number one in college,” said eighth grader Samahdj Houston. “We learn how to be a great AVID family together.”

“We do lesson plans Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We do study groups Tuesday and Thursday, said eighth grader Robert Sanchez. Sanchez said the group goes on great field trips to colleges like CACC, Tuskegee, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State and Auburn to learn about college. The AVID class also incorporates guest speakers and team-building exercises into the curriculum.

C0-dyad teaching is an initiative NLMS is working on with the state to ensure educators are teaching the most up-to-date and integral forms of the subject while connecting with students in a way unlike any other.

“We are the first school in Alabama to model for math,” said math teacher Gay Coley. She said students come in small groups at six model stations in a classroom. Coley, and special education instructor Jamie Henderson, co-teach the class. “We do the same  but teach is two different ways. We meet the kids where they are individually,” Coley said.

“Sometimes we have kids at the table doing different things collaborating together,” said Henderson. “Then sometimes they’re on the computer and working independently.” Both teachers agree co-teaching is more effective.

Next year, students in grades three through twelve will receive a Google Chromebook tablet. Currently, teachers are going through eMINTS training, via a grant that was awarded to the school this year funding the 1-to-1 initiative, or Digital By Design.

“It’s a professional development model,” said title one teacher Jennifer Donahoo. “We are learning technology and instructional design.”

“[This is] teaching students the way to use technology when they get it,” said Pinecrest Elementary library media specialist Jaclyn Rivers.

“This kind of walks us through different ways to implement the computers,” said Cecelia Dean, NLMS media specialist. “It’s a tool and supplement.”

All students will receive the Chromebooks in the 2016-2017 school year.

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Michael Brannon for | © 2016, City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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