Hargraves: Middle Level Students


LAPS Board Aspen District  
My last column discussed education tracks and suggested areas to improve. In this column I want to suggest what approach might be taken to address the needs of the middle level or middle track students.
Middle level students struggle in various ways. Until recently and except for family there was very little assistance or support systems, no safety nets to help. Even now as we start to acknowledge the struggle of these students, our solutions are often ineffective and take too long to initiate. Watching these students and our children struggle with school and, when searching for help, finding that assistance is difficult to identify and ineffective reaches directly to the heart of many people’s frustrations with our Los Alamos Middle School and Los Alamos High School.
What approach might be used to identify solutions?  
First we need a dialogue with our families, educators, and community to clarify and gain insight into the problems. I respect the qualifications and expertise of our local educators. However, I am reluctant to simply throw them the problem to fix. First because if the solution were simple and a successful educational solution existed, we should already be using it. And second because I think the solution is multifaceted involving the school, the family, and the community.
This approach tries to understand the entire set of problems. It should be comprehensive which means it will take some time. By it’s nature, this approach can result in good solutions in the long term. 
What can be done immediately? Here are some ideas:
  • Hire more counselors and focus their time on counseling students. Some work counselors perform now needs to move to other staff.
  • Incorporate english as a second language programs, especially for Spanish speakers. 
  • Identify curriculum specific to needs of the middle level students. 
* Many of these students plan to attend college. Offer courses that teach practical skills to succeed in college. 
* Offer career classes to help students gain insight to careers of interest.
* Setup off campus career explorations with local businesses or with the Laboratory.
  • Find new ways to transition 8th grade students to Freshman year. Freshman Academy was effective initially but seems not to be so effective now. We need a new look at Freshman year.
  • Setup more partnerships with UNMLA and offer more dual credit classes. Use the successful Robotics dual credit classes as a model. 
  • Move the school day start time ahead an hour or more. This is beneficial for all students. 
  • Take advantage of support systems which are setup such as: Saturday School, Homework Hangout, Academic Time, Youth Advocates from JJAB, Teen Center. If we enable our counselors to actually counsel students and families, these support systems can be quickly identified when students need help. 

A one size fits all solution will not be effective for these middle students. Schools are very good when there is a one size fits all solution. Hence the need for schools, family, and community to come together to create effective solutions.