Bullies no-shows in schools’ 1st paired year
Martinez, Gomez plan for increased K-8 coordination next year at Wests

       A year ago, when the District 11 Board of Education was mulling the idea of putting an elementary school in the same building with West Middle School, several anguished parents warned about bullying from the older children.

Courtney Martinez, a West Middle School sixth-grader helps organize an activity for teacher Connie Maier's West Elementary School third-grade class in the building's jointly used library April 16.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The board combined the schools anyway, and as West Elementary (grades K-5) and West Middle School (6-8) near the completion of their first year together, there has been exactly one report of abusive behavior between children in the two schools. But it wasn't what might have been expected.
       “An elementary school student kicked a middle-school kid,” reported Clay Gomez, principal of West Middle School. Overall this year, he said, “we have been able to make it work. Kids beating up younger kids didn't happen.”
       Moreover, the older West students frequently help as aides in the elementary school classrooms or during special activities. “Some of my kids were more boisterous, and being aides has helped them become more responsible,” Gomez said.
       From the standpoint of the elementary school, Principal Terry Martinez described the parents' early concerns as mainly “fear of the unknown.” The reality has been “lots of overlapping success stories.” And getting the help of middle-schoolers in elementary classrooms (an elective course for a quarter) “was one of those perks we didn't anticipate.”
       Specific steps were taken to prevent problems. There are separate school entrances, playground areas and restrooms, and students from the two schools are kept from mingling in the library.
       The evident first-year success took place despite district and school leaders having barely half a year to implement the plan - including major renovations last summer in the West building - after the board decision in February 2009. “The goal was to make something out of nothing,” Martinez recalled. “We did some planning, made some decisions that were right and made it work.”
       Looking to next year, he and Gomez would like to work toward a K-8 school but don't see it completely happening until 2011-2012. “We have tentative approval to use next year as more or less a planning year,” Martinez said.
       Some of the planning has already taken place, with the principals having visited three K-8 schools in Colorado and having held meetings to discuss the issues involved in meshing their programs.
       In May, they plan to talk with the school board. Two nitty-gritty areas that need addressing are curriculum and schedule. The goal with the curriculum is to ensure consistency in instruction. For example, “it would be helpful to know what math is going to look like, preschool through eighth grade,” Martinez said. Also, Gomez pointed out, sometimes middle school teachers find that students coming out of fifth grade don't have the expected levels of preparation
       Regarding schedule, the idea is for the two Wests to start and end around the same time. Currently, they follow the normal district arrangement, in which elementaries start about an hour before and end an hour earlier than middle school. This makes it difficult for staff members from the two schools to get together before or after school to talk about common concerns, Martinez and Gomez explained. Also, they said, the differing schedules make transportation difficult. This applies to parents with kids in the different schools, and even for middle school students who are supposed to walk younger siblings home.

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