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Pyle Middle School

Four days after Pyle Middle School students returned to school, the Pyle community sold 600 tickets to a dance that raised $28,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims. During the first week of classes, Principal Michael Zarchin was especially moved to see students take out a five-dollar bill, pay for their lunch, and donate the rest to the hurricane relief fund.

“More than the music was the fact that the kids were there to help those who needed it,” said Zarchin.

News about the damage wrought by the hurricane and subsequent flooding inspired several Pyle students and teachers Brad Lambert, Rachel Lunsford and Jen Thorson to organize the dance. Parents came to help sell and collect tickets and chaperone the dance.

“It was a community effort, which is really nice,” Zarchin said.

One New Orleans student enrolled at Pyle last week, and he and his family were at the front office registering for school while Zarchin was on the school’s daily television news show promoting the dance.

LAST YEAR, several Pyle students initiated a collection to raise money for victims of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. They simply passed the hat, and raised $18,000 in less than a week. As Zarchin begins his second year as Pyle’s principal, he has already seen how students get spurred into action by what they learn in the classroom and from world events.

Zarchin and assistant principals Ann Dolan, Robyn Jackson and Mike Kryder view the middle school age as essential to a student’s social, academic and personal growth.

“In middle school you can really have a positive influence on the whole child,” Zarchin said.

“What better place to be able to influence them?” said Dolan. “It’s the best age; it’s where the kids are figuring out who they’re going to be as adults.”

“We get to mold them and to teach them how to be organized kids,” said Jackson. In the middle school years, students gain some independence and grow a little less reliant on their parents, Jackson said.

Pyle is one of Montgomery County’s largest middle schools, and it also has the county’s largest after-school activities program. Extracurricular clubs available to the students include chess, archery, equestrian, guitar lessons, fencing and babysitting certification. Each year, Pyle performs a fall drama and a spring musical.

Pyle’s core values include the idea of developing a passion for learning, Zarchin said. “This is the time we want a student to learn what their passion is and learn what they’re good at, before they go to high school.”

QUEEN ELIZABETH visits Pyle each May as part of the school’s Renaissance Festival. Students and teachers dress in English medieval or Renaissance period attire. Pyle teachers use the event to integrate a multidisciplinary approach. Pyle’s chorus sings songs appropriate to the time period, and in seventh-grade history classes, students interview the visiting queen. In science classes, students learn how diseases like the Bubonic Plague spread in medieval-period Europe.

This same approach applies to sixth-graders, who read Greek and Roman mythology, and eight-graders, who study Native Americans and the American Revolution and Civil War – not only in history classes, but also in English and science in an approach that bridges the subjects.

There’s something to celebrate throughout the year, and Pyle students participate in a Hoops for Heart fund-raiser, a Cinco de Mayo celebration, a Greco-Roman Festival, and Bill’s Buddies, an acting troupe that acts out scenes from Shakespeare plays.

“These activities make books come alive for the kids,” Zarchin said.

BEFORE ZARCHIN became Pyle’s principal last year, he worked at the elementary, middle and high school levels at Montgomery County schools. As a former high school guidance counselor, he appreciates the importance of a student’s middle school years. “[We try to] make sure they leave here as total, total people,” Zarchin said. “If they come in on a positive note and feel good about who they are, they will do pretty well in high school.”