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College Park Middle redesignated as a 'School to Watch'

Published on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019

College Park Middle redesignated as a 'School to Watch'

BCSD photo / Monica Kreber

It was a busy day, to say the least, at College Park Middle on Friday.

Throughout the day the three grade levels had ongoing, hands-on activities, from sixth-graders in engineering using limited items to lift a ball off a table to seventh-graders rotating through innovative science activities in the multipurpose room.

A repeated sentiment by staff members was this was not something out of the ordinary at College Park Middle, but Nov. 22 was a special day – a day for everyone at the school to “strut their stuff”, so to speak.

It was an important day because this was the day when committee officials were checking out the school, which had recently applied to be re-designated as a School to Watch.

By the end of the day the news went across the district: College Park Middle, for a third time, is a School to Watch.

Principal Ingrid Dukes’s ecstatic memo came through Friday evening, in which she said that while the school did not yet have the final report in hand, the School to Watch committee unanimously agreed that College Park Middle is continuing on the path to excellence.

“The committee acknowledges that we have many challenges to face at CPM,” she wrote. “They also acknowledge that the work you do on behalf of our students is invaluable and making a difference in their lives.”

The Schools to Watch Program is a national Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform program. The program focuses on school improvement efforts characterized by a continuous trajectory toward success. Schools have to apply to be recognized as a School to Watch.

College Park Middle was designated in 2011 and re-designated in 2017. The most recent description of the school in the South Carolina Schools to Watch visitor’s guide noted multiple qualities of the school geared toward academic excellence. Some of those items include multiple STEM opportunities, integrated technology across the curriculum, multiple areas in which extra help is offered to students, and more.

C.E. Williams Middle School for Creative and Scientific Arts in Charleston County is the only other school in the Lowcountry to have received the designation as well.

Dukes described it as a continuous process on Friday. She said the application process includes providing information in regards to how the school demonstrates key areas including development responses, academic excellence, social equity and process and procedure structures. Friday was a one-day site visit by the Schools to Watch committee.

“We just had a lot of stuff going on today…our teachers are kind of struttin’ their stuff, showing off all the great things that they do,” she said.

Those “great things” include a lot of project-based and personalized learning, and super high student engagement.

It is not atypical of any school day at College Park Middle.

“We have an atmosphere that’s just student-centered, that our teachers are always looking to see what’s the best way to do things for students,” Dukes said. “You can get in a rut and say, ‘this is something that works,’ and you can continue to use that approach, but if you’re not looking at how learners are changing then you’re not doing justification to the learners.

“So the atmosphere at this school, what you’re seeing today is what happens typically,” Dukes said.

Dukes could not pick out a favorite activity she saw going on during the day, noting that all of them were innovative.

An example of Friday’s hands-on learning included the school’s seventh-grade science teachers coming together to have the students rotate through three different activities in the multipurpose room. They made DNA strands out of licorice and gum drops at one station, answered questions electronically at another, and a particular favorite among the students was operating Sphero robots.

College Park Middle redesignated as a 'School to Watch'

BCSD photo/Monica Kreber

Students used an app on their tablets to operate the Spheros around an obstacle course, which contained science-related images of items the students have learned about in the first and second quarter of the year. Seventh-grade science teacher Jared Crosby would spin a wheel labeled with corresponding vocabulary words that the students used to select the right image to race to.

“The kids are, obviously, reviewing content but they’re more so having fun driving around with the robot,” he said.

Crosby said this was the first time the students got to play around with them grade-level wise.

“I think it just lets them see that they can be competitive and have a good time, all the while learning,” he said.

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Monica Kreber