Pacelli’s change to middle school ‘a good fit so far’

Published 7:27 am Thursday, February 25, 2010

When Pacelli Junior High evolved into Pacelli Middle School this year — with the transfer of sixth graders from the elementary to the high school building — the school made several changes to accommodate the new age range.

Student-led conferences, quarterly incentive days and team-teaching are among initiatives that Austin Catholic Schools director Mary Holtorf said have been successful in the middle school’s inaugural year.

“This has been a good fit for sixth-graders so far,” said middle school language arts teacher Jeannie Bambrick, noting that the middle school has its own wing of the Pacelli building.

Bambrick moved over from the neighboring elementary school this year to help create a tightly-knit team of teachers in the new middle school.

To this end, the three core middle school teachers meet twice a week to consult about curriculum, programs and progress in the school.

This year, these teachers implemented quarterly incentive days for middle-schoolers. During the first quarter, Bambrick explained, students with less than 10 demerits — for things like tardiness, behavior and dress code violations — earned a movie, popcorn and dodge ball day. During the second quarter, those who posted less than eight demerits went sledding at Skinner’s Hill. This quarter, students with less than six demerits will probably be rewarded with a bowling day, Bambrick said.

Also an innovation at the middle school are student-lead conferences. Unlike typical parent-teacher conferences, students facilitate these meetings, armed with a portfolio of their work.

In it’s pilot year, Pacelli Middle School held one student-lead conference and will hold quarterly parent-teacher conferences.

Parent participation was 95 percent for the student-lead conferences last month, while average participation levels for normal conferences have been near 73 percent, Holtorf said.

These conferences don’t only help to get parents to show up, but they also get students excited and prepared to put together a presentation, Bambrick said.

The students worked on introductory and interview skills in their language arts classes as well as compiled a portfolio throughout the quarter. They were even graded on their conference presentation.

“It got parents more involved and helped kids to take more responsibility for their learning,” Bambrick said.

Sarah Holtz, 12, said she is enjoying middle school and was not too scared to move into the high school building as she advanced into the sixth grade.

“I felt comfortable because we knew the class above us, who was going over with us from the elementary,” she explained.

Betsy Ettinger, 11, agreed.

“It was a little scary at first, but the seventh and eighth graders are really nice,” she said.

“It’s fun having classes with the older students,” Braden Kocer, 12, said, noting that they take courses like gym and music with other grade levels.

The transition could have been a bit more intimidating for Deng Deng, 11, who was completely new to Austin Catholic Schools this year. He did not know any students there before this fall, he said.

“People were nice though, and it was just fine,” he said. “I like it.”