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In the Middle

Middle Schools gear up for new school year.

Alexandria has two middle schools, and they are now in the midst of preparing for the upcoming school year. Francis Hammond Middle School serves the city's west side and George Washington Middle School serves students on the east end.

Francis Hammond Middle School was built in 1956. In the last 49 years, the building has housed a variety of grade levels. From 1956 to 1971, it was a high school. From 1971 to 1979, Hammond was one of the city's first integrated schools, offering grades 9 and 10. In 1979, the school offered grades 7 to 9 as a junior high school. Finally, in 1993, the school was reorganized as a middle school serving grades 6 to 8.

"Hammond prides itself on creating child-friendly teams of teachers that address the needs of the whole child," said Principal Kris Clark. "The absolute best part about Hammond is our student body. They are from all over the world and speak 53 different languages. In a war-torn world, Hammond represents the best of humanity, cultural respect and understanding."

This year, 24 new teachers will join 122 returning teachers at Hammond, and Kris Feroleto will join the administration team as the 6th grade principal.

"Kris is an experienced teacher and counselor and we are excited that she will continue and enhance our child-centered focus," said Clark.

Over the summer, 10 Hammond teachers took a course called "Visualizing and Verbalizing." The program was designed to help students who have difficulties making phonetic connections by enhancing their visualizing and verbalization skills to promote comprehension.

Improving reading skills is a goal at Hammond, where last year's English performance scores were mixed. Students at the school scored 72 percent in English performance, but a look at the subgroups' scores illustrates the difficulty that school administrators face. Black students scored 68 percent; Hispanic students scored 72 percent; white students scored 84 percent; disabled students scored 38 percent; disadvantaged students scored 65 percent; and students who have limited English proficiency scored 58 percent.

Under No Child Left Behind, the target for English performance was 65 percent last year. Next year, the target will be 69 percent. In 2013, the target for English Performance will be 100 percent.

Hammond will continue to offer other programs to help students read and write, including Club BILI, the Boys in Literacy Initiative that encourages the male students to read. History Alive, another program at the school, offers an interactive approach to teaching history. All social studies and civics teachers at Hammond will use this program during the school year.

"A team of teachers have worked all summer planning a new approach to student support that will more closely monitor and support our students, to ensure academic, social, emotional and physical success for each child," said Clark.

AT GEORGE WASHINGTON Middle School, teachers and administrators have been preparing many changes for the upcoming school year. The school's art deco building on Mount Vernon Avenue served as a high school for many years. In 1993, it was reopened as a middle school.

"The first week of school is always my favorite time of the school year," said Principal Grace Taylor. "The excitement from staff, students and parents is contagious. My challenge is to keep it going."

This year, the school administration will be unveiling a new campaign called "Prexie Pride."

"The term 'prexie' originated when George Washington Middle School was George Washington High School," said Taylor. "The school mascot as and continues to be the 'presidents,' or 'prexie' for short."

The "Prexie Pride" campaign will encourage students at the middle school to be polite, prepared, prompt and purposeful. The campaign will include assemblies, posters, announcements, broadcasts and motivational activities.

The school will have 19 new teachers and several new programs. Like teachers at Hammond, several teachers at George Washington attended training this summer for the "Verbalizing and Visualizing" program. The reading program will be implemented through the school's daily reading period.

The school's scores from last year's standardized tests show drastic disparities for student performance at George Washington Middle School. While white students scored a 99 percent on English performance, blacks scored 57 percent and Hispanic students scored 57 percent on the same test.

Other subgroups did even worse in English performance, with economically disadvantaged students scoring 55 percent, disabled students scoring 35 percent and students with limited English passing just 14 percent of the questions.

"The improvement of literacy continues to be a focus at George Washington Middle School," said Taylor. "We have a lively calendar of events this school year to increase parent involvement, all in an effort of improving student achievement."