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What's Happening at Middle Schools

The return to school last week meant the start of another year of new and exciting things for local middle-school students.

"The first day of school was great," said Franklin Middle Principal Michelle Peyser. "All the buses got in on time, the students were comfortable being here and it actually felt as though no time had passed between the end of summer and now."

ENROLLMENT there is 1,110 students, just slightly less than last year, and 10 new teachers joined the faculty, mainly replacing retirees across all fields. Also new to Franklin is Assistant Principal Sybil Dunegan, who previously was an administrative intern at Langston Hughes Middle. And, said Peyser, "We're delighted to have her."

Franklin opened an arts/graphics lab this year and ordered 27, high-end computers and accompanying software to support them. "It's a new extension of the Fine Arts Department, and we're very excited about it," said Peyser. "We have a very rich curriculum and it really merges technology and art — which has been a goal of ours for a long time."

Students will be taking two, fall field trips. Last year's eighth-graders visited UVA, and this year's class will visit the University of Maryland. Each year, students are introduced to a different campus, as well as the college-application process.

"It's so they can get a concrete vision of a campus and what it feels like to go to college," said Peyser. "It also enables them to start planning now for the courses they'll choose in high school." In addition, Franklin holds monthly seminars for parents, and one seminar will be devoted to college planning.

Seventh-graders will receive guided tours of Washington, D.C., the monuments and some of the Smithsonian to help make the history they study more meaningful to them.

Last spring, the school instituted an academic-focus lunch group, and it will continue this year. "We hand-select students needing additional academic support and time with a teacher," explained Peyser. "And it's made a remarkable difference in their achievement."

Beginning her eighth year as principal there, Peyser said her enthusiasm for her job is as strong as ever. "I have a real passion for training teachers and supporting staff development — helping people who do great things with kids," she said. "We just have two years with our students, so every day counts. There's no time to waste."

<sh>Rocky Run Middle

<bt>Likewise, at Rocky Run Middle, Principal Dan Parris looked eagerly toward this school year, saying, "There are lots of exciting things going on at Rocky Run."

Seventh-grade social studies students will continue to benefit from the school's living history program in which war veterans come and speak about their experiences. Rocky Run students will also visit the memorials in Washington, D.C., and will then design their own. They'll decide to whom or what it should be dedicated and will then "create" it as if they were commissioned by Congress to do so.

The school will also have a full-year drama class. In the past, it was a semester elective. But, said Parris, "Our drama program has been so strong and successful — with such quality performances — that now we're offering it as a full-year option."

Rocky Run's orchestra has also received its share of accolades. It's been selected to perform at the Northern Virginia Music Educators Association Conference. And as always, said Parris, "Academics continue to be the main focus and we continue to grow our SOL scores."

The school also emphasizes lifelong learning skills, such as literacy, which includes reading, writing, speaking and problem solving. Last year's emphasis was on reading, and Rocky Run added "Read 180" — a computer-based program integrating teaching with a computer program by Scholastic.

Students read selected books which are interesting and matched to their particular reading levels. Then they do a related activity on the computer, and the results tell the teacher which specific area each student is having problems with and needs to work on more.

"We're seeing growth, from one to two grade levels in most kids, because of this program," said Parris. "And this is just one tool we use in our emphasis on literacy. We also use, for example, reading incentives and book clubs." This year's focus will be on writing and the six traits of good writing.

In middle school, students have the same math, English, social studies and science teachers, so Rocky Run created a reading handbook so that teaching teams may use the same technique employed in teaching reading comprehension to help students learn other subjects.

"By teaching reading in the same manner, across the curriculum, kids really get the idea that it's a lifelong learning skill," explained Parris. "It's neat for teachers, as well, and it's a lot of fun."

Rocky Run is again piloting block scheduling on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Last year, the school did it for five weeks; this year, it'll be for 18 weeks. The local high schools have block scheduling and, said Parris, "It puts a differentiated time block into each week for things such as guest speakers, science labs, full drama rehearsals, etc. And if it's matched to what kids are learning, it'll be a benefit to them academically. It helps maximize learning for kids."

The school just lost three teachers to retirement, and all taught math. However, said Parris, "We're at 97-98 percent passing in math and we got excellent new teachers who are a great match for our school and community."

<sh>Stone Middle

<bt>Stone Middle School has six new teachers, this year. Billy Hawkins will teach seventh-grade social studies and English; Julee Moore, seventh-grade math and science; Cynthia Van de Camp, Spanish and French; James Dunphy, ESOL; Mark Daugherty, eighth-grade science; and Mark Taylor, orchestra. The school also has a new student-information assistant, school resource officer, school psychologist and part-time office assistant.

Principal Ken Gaudreault said Stone had a smooth opening and things went well. "For the first time, we're down around 1,020 students — which is less than the building capacity of 1,050," he said. "It's interesting to watch the kids move around freely." And since Stone was so tremendously overcrowded for such a long time before Liberty Middle opened, a few years ago, that's quite an accomplisment.

"We're in our 15th year of learning here at Stone and we have a full, returning administrative staff," said Gaudreault. "We're also in our fourth year of the Professional Learning Communities — one of just a handful of schools that far along with it. It aligns us with the county's plan and supports our students."

New this year is a breakfast program for all Stone students. It runs from 7:40-8 a.m. and, said Gaudreault, "It's to give them a substantial way to start the day."

Stone is also one of three schools offering Club 78 (signifying that it's for students in grades seven and eight). It's after-school child care for middle-school students and is held from 3-6 p.m. at the school. "It's provided by the school system in conjunction with the county Recreation Department," explained Gaudreault. "It's a combination of study, activity and rest time. It's already filled with a maximum of 60 students, with a waiting list."

The school is also offering Thomas Jefferson prep classes to accelerated students planning to apply there. And in mid-August, Stone held a two-week, Jump Start program to identify rising seventh-graders needing extra academic help to be successful. Said Gaudreault: "We had 48 students who received three hours of small-group activities in reading, writing and math, with four teachers."

Stone is also participating in a Fairfax County first. "Our partner school in Oxfordshire, England, the Warriner School — will send 20 students, four teachers and the headmaster to visit here for a week," said Gaudreault. "It's going to be a pretty exciting thing."

The guests will stay with the families of Stone students and will shadow these students during the school day. They'll also visit Williamsburg, Jamestown and Washington, D.C. They're coming Oct. 16 and, the next Friday, they'll visit Westfield High to see the transition from middle to high school and will even attend a Bulldog football game that night.

There are also plans to have GMU seniors and grad students mentor Stone students in academics and development. "I'm looking forward to this school year tremendously," said Gaudreault. "We've got a great group of kids and plan to continue our success."