Every teacher and staff member at Robert Frost Middle School has a clear plastic display case with two words printed on it: “Now Reading.”
The display isn’t there to remind students what textbook the class is currently working on. Instead, teachers put in whatever they’re reading at the moment — a novel, a sports magazine, the newspaper.
“The focus is that we demonstrate to the students that reading is important and that we want to develop lifelong readers,” said Dr. Joey Jones, principal at Frost. His own display contains softcover pedagogy texts.
This year, the school is expanding the “Now Reading” effort by putting aside 20 minutes twice a week for sustained, silent reading in class.
“Staff can choose whatever they want to read, and students can basically choose whatever they want to read,” Jones said. “Hopefully we’re sending a message: reading is important. Because when you look at the different subject areas, you read in every context or subject area.”
The reading initiative is part of Jones’ vision of continual improvement at Frost, which already boasts some of the best test scores in the county. The school will also introduce a more comprehensive individual intervention program to give extra help to students that need it.
Jones has taken cues from the county — which recently completed an middle school audit — in tailoring Frost’s curriculum and teaching practices to the unique demands of the middle school level.
“Middle school is … a formative time for students and they have unique developmental needs that you have to be aware of and develop programs that will complement those developmental tasks,” Jones said. “For example they need to be around their peers. So it makes a lot of sense to have grouping practices. I understand you have effective grouping practices at elementary and high school, but you definitely need it at middle school.”
Jones estimated that 60-70 percent of Frost students take a modified high school schedule, with foreign language or high school level math classes. That’s a testament to the school’s achievement he said, but also requires caution.
“We have to be careful. We have to put supports in place to help them get through that rigorous instruction,” he said.
The key is a close partnership with parents. Jones reminded parents to closely monitor their children’s activities, limiting activities like TV watching, to help students manage their time effectively, and most importantly, to remain in close contact with Frost teachers about their children.
“The home is the student’s first classroom, and the parents are the student’s first teachers. So it’s important to maintain that close communication with parents so they can let us know what’s going on and we can let them know what’s going on as well,” Jones said.
HELPING NEW TEACHERS
Robert Frost Middle School Principal Joey Jones said that he is excited to welcome 10 new teachers this year to the school’s staff of approximately 80, and that the school has worked hard to effectively acquaint newcomers to the school — and the profession.
The new teachers are paired with veterans in a kind of mentoring program and have the opportunity to observe several senior teachers at work.
“They need time to strengthen their craft and learn about the craft of teaching,” Jones said. Working with senior teachers gives them that opportunity while also acquainting them with the values of the school.
“It can be overwhelming,” Jones said. “I remember my first year of teaching, I was at two schools. I didn’t have a classroom of my own. I had two principals, four or five assistant principals, 190 colleagues. And being split between two schools — it was just challenging. I traveled during my planning time. … I enjoyed my first year. I learned a lot, but for someone who was trying to decide whether or not they really want to go into education, they probably would have said, ‘No I don’t want to do it.’”