The Ever-Changing Middle School


Lind/Fish photo

Triton Middle School. (Fish image)

Michael Fish and Joshua Lind

Last years, due to budget cuts, there were multiple programs cut and one teacher  laid off in the middle school. This year, the 7th grade lost the privilege of having a foreign language class. This loss led to the institution of a new culture class where students learn about four different cultures throughout the year. In addition, the middle school no longer has teams, meaning that 7-2 and 7-3 are one big team. The same goes for the eighth grade.

In previous years, students in the 7th grade took one semester to learn introductory Spanish and one semester to learn introductory French. It was analogous to a trial period. However, the budget cuts hit the foreign language department, leaving only two foreign language teachers for the entire middle school.

According to high-school Spanish teacher Mrs. Janice Kovach, the new culture-class is “exposing students to four different cultures around the world, and a very little bit [or] glimmering of French and Spanish at the end – all this in a quarter.” This change could prove problematic.

“The window for learning a foreign language is at a much younger age than [high school students] started,” said Kovach.

According to the Pew Research Center, “in most European countries, students begin studying their first foreign language as a compulsory school subject between the ages of 6 and 9.”

Pushing back the start of learning a foreign language could make it harder for future students to get an understanding of the language they are learning. Also, this change could make it harder for high school teachers to fully cover the curriculum. In prior years, high school teachers would jump right into chapter 2. Now, they have to cover that first in order to get to the same level of Spanish and French.

Aiden Szymanski, a current 7th grader, is taking the culture class. He remarked that “I like it, I just wish I could learn a bit of actual Spanish.” He also stated that although there are no formal teams (8-2, 8-3, etc.), middle school is still similar to what it was: “Everybody stays in their own hall.”

“We really only cut one teacher, and a couple aides as well,” middle school Principal Alan MacRae said when asked about the number of teachers cut. “Small enrollment in foreign language classes as well as the way the schedule change ended up working out played a role [in why the staff had to be cut].”

As discussed above, the culture class is the newest addition to the education in the middle school, and the removal of foreign language for the seventh grade students. This class was brought in due to low-enrollment in the foreign language classes and, in part, due to the budget cuts.

“This year we have a class called Language and Culture, so kids are getting some exposure to it, but it’s multiple languages… and they will still be able to pick [their foreign language] for eighth grade,” MacRae said. This change is not favored by some of the foreign language teachers, as they believe that the students need more exposure to the languages than the class is providing; Kovach is one of these teachers.

The removal of teams is the other major change that came to the middle school, which was a move made by MacRae to integrate the middle school and high school schedules. This would allow for the high school teachers to teach middle school students in the event that they did not have proper teachers in the middle school.

“We aligned the schedule to the high school, and in doing that, gave ourselves a lot more flexibility to schedule kids in classes… The kids are basically still going to the same ‘teams,’ but as enrollment declines, which is to be expected, I may not be able to sustain four social studies teachers. It really just gives more flexibility to schedule,” said MacRae

MacRae and Forget both said they believe that changes made this year were good, with the exception of cutting the teacher and the aides, but they are happy and said they believe that the changes made this year were for the better.

A lot of what the changes boil down to is the predicted decreased enrollment in the district; “We had a prediction done for the next decade, and we were set to drop to 2,200 [students], and we are currently at 2,600, roughly,” Forget said.

This drop in students could seriously affect the funding for Triton down the line, as it has already begun with the cutting of programs and teachers over the last year. These changes could help save money but decrease course offerings for the district down the line, especially with budget cuts already leading to many teachers being laid off last year.