published Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Hamilton County middle schools mark completion of 'New Society'

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    Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit that supports local schools.
    Photo by Gillian Bolsover

The sense of achievement in the air Wednesday wasn't for just a successful 2011-12 school year -- it was for a project that stretches back to July 2005 called Middle Schools for a New Society.

Funding for the project ends this year, but hopes are high that it will continue.

Tables were filled with Hamilton County middle school teachers, administrators and students in a ballroom at The Chattanoogan.

Almost seven years ago, Hamilton County schools, the Public Education Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation and the NEA Foundation joined to transform all 20 middle schools in Hamilton County to prepare students to thrive in high school by focusing on reading, math and the well-being of students though helping to train teachers and educators.

Based on national studies, special attention needed to be paid to junior high students, Public Education Foundation President Dan Challener said.

"Student achievement tends to decline then," he said. "One goal we had is for every student to be well known by at least one adult in their school."

A video almost nine minutes long played at the event to showcase all 20 middle schools participating in Middle Schools for a New Society and its emphasis on readers' and writers' workshops, which is an approach established by Columbia University to engage students in reading.

"In the beginning, it used to be about what teachers are teaching, now it's about what students are learning," said Ismahen Kangles, director of Middle Schools for a New Society. "Now kids are reading and writing more than ever."

Student representatives from all 20 Hamilton County middle schools took to the podium to talk about the positive effects the Middle Schools for a New Society and workshops have had on them and their school.

Coryn Atkinson, an eighth-grader from Dalewood Middle School, complimented the training the teachers received to become better leaders -- which resulted in her currently reading at a high school level, she said.

"You'll have to know how to read your whole life," she said. "It's very important."

While the funds expire after this school year, there are hopes to continue Middle Schools for a New Society, and include science, Kangles said.

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