On the conference table in her office, Langston Hughes Middle School Principal Deborah Jackson has laid out eight starfish. The starfish are gifts, picked up by her co-workers during their summer vacations. Since starting at the school last year, word has spread that the starfish is Jackson's favorite animal. And she uses the sea creature as a metaphor for her diverse student body.
"There are so many sizes," Jackson said, looking at the starfish. "They are all so different. It gets me so excited. They're a constant reminder whenever something happens that, truly, no child can be left behind."
In response to the U.S. Department of Education's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Langston Hughes will be including some of its mentally disabled students in mainstream elective classes. Jackson said Fairfax County is encouraging inclusion in its schools, but that not all schools have chosen to include mentally disabled students in mainstream classes.
"This helps everyone," Jackson said. "It's part of the real world experience. We don't live in a homogeneous society. We have to deal with each other. All kids deserve this experience."
LANGSTON HUGHES is continuing the effort to bring the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years program to the school. The high school IB program, in place at South Lakes High School, is an advanced course of studies that uses an interdisciplinary approach. The middle years program involves new teaching methods, used throughout a middle school, to prepare students for the high school program.
"IB raises the bar for all of our students," Jackson said. "By having the middle years program, the students don't have to wait until 10th grade. We inform the kids now so they are prepared, and have the skills to excel."
This fall a team of IB representatives will come to Langston Hughes to evaluate the school's eligibility for IB. In Spring 2003 the school will be told whether or not it qualifies for the program.
In her first year as a principal, Jackson said she learned the value of collaboration. And that lesson was during her participation in the Leaders Count workshop, held this summer in New York City. One hundred principals from across the nation gathered to discuss leadership and issues in education.
"Working together as a school and as a community, you can make dreams become reality for the kids," Jackson said. "But you can't do it in isolation."
Enrollment at Langston Hughes is currently at 954 students, but that number may change before school starts. There will be 90 teachers at the school and 13 new teachers. There will also be six trailers used for class instruction.