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Prep Time

With less than a week left before students begin classes for the year, preparations are in full swing at the local middle schools. Monday, teachers from around the county filled the halls and classrooms for teacher training. Staff posted signs on hallway bulletin boards welcoming students to their school.

As the population of the areas around Ashburn and South Riding constantly change, middle schools are facing ever-changing enrollment and ever-growing staffs. To help the students adjust to the changes, many schools are focusing on creating a community within their schools.

<sh>Belmont Ridge Middle

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The teachers of Belmont Ridge Middle School will be focusing a lot of cooperative teaching during the upcoming school year, Principal Theresa Redd said.

The school will have around 30 to 40 inclusion classes, which combine special-education classes with regular classes with two teachers teaching each class. The inclusion classes will cover all core education areas and all three grades.

"We are focusing on what strategies work in co-teaching classes," Redd said. "We want both teachers to be professionals and be interactive with the students."

Several Belmont Ridge teachers received special training in collaborative teaching and then trained their fellow teachers, Redd said.

Belmont Ridge is also in the beginning stages of increasing its literacy program with plans to include reading and writing across the curriculum.

"This is something we need to do if we really want to enrich our literacy program," Redd said.

This year's theme at Belmont Ridge will be "Working Together We Achieve Excellence," something Redd said will be emphasized through team building exercises for both students and staff.

In addition, the school is expanding on the student focus groups that it began last April. The groups were made up of minority students who met three times last spring and Redd said she hopes the groups will be able to meet monthly this year.

"We are really interested in giving students more of a voice in the school," she said. "We have a lot of involvement from teachers and parents and the students are the third part of that."

<sh>Eagle Ridge Middle

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To help build its community, Eagle Ridge created a year-long theme, Treasure Hunt for Success, where students are split into teams and participate in a number of challenges together. The challenges will be made up of a variety of things, such as a three-month academic challenge where the number of As on the students November report cards will be counted.

The goal of the program is to earn keys and at the end of the year one of the keys will open up a treasure chest, Principal Janice Koslowski said.

"We will hold an end-of-year pep rally in May to see which key fits," she said. "The winning team will get to go on a great team building field trip together."

The program is based on what Koslowski called the three fundamental keys to success in middle school: collaborative instruction, academic achievement and strong relationships.

"It is a fundamental belief that strong relationships between kids and adults both at school and in the community make kids strong academically," Koslowski said.

With approximately 350 more students enrolled in Eagle Ridge this year than last and 27 new teachers, one new librarian and guidance counselor, Koslowski said strong relationships are even more important.

"There are a lot of new faces," she said. "It is almost like starting a new school again."

In addition to the treasure hunt program, Eagle Ridge will have a new advisory this year, ANCHORR, which stands for "a new core group to help build relationships and responsibility." Each group will focus on study skills, reading and cultural awareness by reading sets of articles on topics such as bullying and respecting each other's differences.

"Each article has discussion questions that go with it," Koslowski said. "We really want the kids to start thinking about these things."

<sh>Farmwell Station Middle

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Principal Sheryl Loya said the main goal at Farmwell Station this year is to build the relationship between the students and the adults in the school.

"We feel really strongly about that social connection," she said. "It is about ensuring each child's needs are being met."

To help the school achieve its goal teachers will be focusing on lesson plans that relate to students every day lives and what their interests are.

"We know kids will pay attention more when the lessons relate to them personally," Loya said. "We will use a lot of real world examples."

Farmwell Station is made up of teams, which Loya said really helps new students adjust to life at Farmwell Station.

"They have a team where teachers really look out for them," she said. "It is really beneficial in terms of making sure they are successful."

Although their enrollment is changing only slightly from last year, Farmwell Station will have 15 new teachers this fall, including three new Spanish teachers. The additional foreign language teachers are a part of the new program for Spanish in middle schools. The program is an extension of the Spanish in elementary schools program.

"This is the first year we will have sixth-graders who have been through the Spanish program," Loya said.

The participating sixth-graders will have Spanish instruction for 30 minutes every other day in their English classes. The Spanish program will also focus on reading skills, with students participating in reading exercises in Spanish.

"We really have a great new team of teachers," Loya said.

<sh>Mercer Middle

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As Mercer Middle School enters its third school year, it continues to grow. Its enrollment is projected to be more than 1,100, almost a 200 student increase from last year, Loudoun County Public Schools' spokesperson Wayde Byard said. Byard does not know how many new teachers Mercer has hired to accommodate its growing population.

Even with a large student body however, Principal Ric Gauriloff said in the school's August/September newsletter he believes the school has "laid a solid foundation for a school community that focuses on individualized quality instruction."

Mercer's mission statement since its opening has been to "foster independent thinking and meet the evolving intellectual, physical, social and emotional needs of a diversified student body."