Model for New Pierson Middle School Program Unveiled

The main entrance to Pierson Middle-High School.

By Kathryn G. Menu

Pierson Middle School educators on Monday night outlined a proposal to bring more “rigor” and excitement into the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, two months after teachers and administrators at Pierson recommended the district not pursue implementing an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme in grades six through 10.

In response to that position, members of the board of education asked for alternate ways to integrate the educational model of IB into the middle school curriculum in an effort to provide more rigor. On Monday — led by Pierson Middle School assistant principal Brittany Carriero — math teacher Chase Mallia, math and ELA teacher Laura Westhoff and new technology teacher Ed Moloney presented plans for a new middle school curriculum. It would include a renewed emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), a focus on experiential-based education, and a new course designed to prepare students for the IB curriculum available to them in high school. Middle school students would also complete a capstone project in eighth grade.

Through Mr. Moloney, a former Intel Senior Project Manager, the team proposed that technology be offered in seventh and eighth grade every day for an entire semester. Mr. Moloney said students would be focused on learning technical drawing, computer aided design, coding programming, simulation, and would work with different robots, 3-D printers, laser engravers and CNC (computer numerical control) machines through a variety of different projects.

“Technology education is all about problem solving,” said Mr. Moloney, noting if capstone projects in eighth grade require students to build something, they will have the technology to do so.

Board member Chris Tice wondered how this technology course, which she said would get kids “excited” about education, could be incorporated into the high school curriculum. Superintendent Katy Graves said that would have to happen with a seventh grade filled with students interested in the class.

“You know gym rats? We have tech rats,” she said. “They don’t want to leave his room.”

Mr. Mallia said the new course developed to prepare students for IB in high school would be “Preparing Learners for a New Tomorrow” or PLANT. It would teach students to assess the credibility of information, support the transition into a “Theory of Knowledge” course, use quantitative reasoning activities, empower students to take ownership of their own learning, and teach students research skills.

“Our hope is a course like this could be taught a little in sixth grade into seventh grade, culminating in a capstone project in eighth grade.”

In theory, the capstone project would be based on a philanthropy course Ms. Westhoff took in college that was focused on philanthropy and distributing funds to local groups. Using money from existing class fundraising, or new fundraising initiatives, students would break into groups of 10 and work with an advisor to review applications from local community groups, complete research and ultimately reward actual funds.

“It’s great to see that spark when they realize other people need their help,” said Ms. Westhoff.

Ms. Carriero said, with board approval, she would like to phase the program in this fall, with eighth graders completing a small capstone project. Board president Diana Kolhoff commended the team on the progress they made, with the board asking them to come back with more information as they develop the project, including exploring whether honors courses are worthwhile, or detrimental, for middle school students.