Archived Story

APS: Holton offers unique opportunities

Published 10:26am Friday, January 25, 2013

By Jean McDermott,

I.J. Holton Intermediate School Principal

Construction continues to progress on the new I.J. Holton Intermediate School in southeast Austin. Austin Public Schools is opening a new school in August that will house all fifth- and sixth-grade public school students from the Austin area. Classrooms are taking shape as drywall is installed and walls are being painted. Plastic sheeting is coming down and windows are going up. Many windows! Open areas, flexible learning spaces and lots of natural lighting are prevailing characteristics in our new STEAM school, fostering an environment for inquiry-based and collaborative teaching and learning.

What will a typical day look like for a student attending I.J. Holton Intermediate School? Combining students from elementary and middle school settings has given us the unique opportunity to take the best of both worlds and develop a schedule that will allow for the needed flexibility of schedule and student grouping to truly deliver inquiry-based teaching and learning. With this in mind, the length of the student instructional day will mirror that of the middle school, 8 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. Also, students will participate in quarterly exploratory classes. Classes, however, will not be on a bell schedule, and they will meet for different periods of time, much like what we see in an elementary school. Also, teams of students and teachers will be grouped together, to allow for the development of closer student/teacher relationships and to allow for more flexible scheduling within individual teams.

Fifth-grade students will be placed in teams with three teachers. A fifth-grade student will participate in the following core classes every day: reading (90 min), math (60 min), science (60 min), social studies (60 min). One 45-minute period of each day will include one of the quarterly exploratory classes; 1) computer keyboarding, 2) art, 3) design lab/Lego robotics, 4) personal wellness. Another 45-minute period will be alternating days of general music and physical education for the entire year. Thirty minutes are set aside for lunch and there is a 15-minute homeroom time.

Sixth-grade students will be placed in teams with four teachers. A sixth-grade student will participate in the following core classes every day: reading (65 min), math (65 min), science (65 min), social studies (65 min). One 45-minute period of each day will include one of the quarterly exploratory classes: 1) computer literacy, 2) art, 3) design lab/woods-engineering, 4) personal wellness. Another 45-minute period will be alternating days of band, orchestra, choir or general music with physical education for the entire year. Thirty minutes are set aside for lunch and there is a 20-minute homeroom time.

The true beauty of this schedule, the teaming process and the design of the building is the flexibility afforded teachers to change up the schedule and the learning spaces to facilitate small group and large group learning opportunities that may need extended periods of time. When Engineering is Elementary units are in full swing, teachers will be able to adjust the schedules (for example, shorten or combine core classes to provide for an extended project time) for their students without negatively impacting what is going on in the rest of the building, yet, allow students the time and space they need to facilitate their learning.

As the pieces come together — physically and programmatically — for our new STEAM school, the excitement and anticipation of starting the new school year with our fifth- and sixth-grade students and staff is beginning to bubble over. Words can’t express the appreciation I have for our forward-thinking community in providing such a timely opportunity to the children of our school district.


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