Higley district introduces new middle schools to public, new opportunities to students - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Higley district introduces new middle schools to public, new opportunities to students

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 6:42 am | Updated: 11:27 am, Mon Mar 24, 2014.

Sometimes adolescents just speak a different language.

Higley Unified School District’s middle schools, that’s not only the case – it’s widely encouraged.

Students at Higley Unified School District’s newest campuses are flocking to foreign language, fine arts and career and technical education electives – some seeing choices they’d never had before.

With the opening of Cooley and Sossaman Middle Schools this year, Higley’s seventh- and eighth-graders now have a wider variety of classoptions.Foreign language classes are popular, with 70 percent of the student population enrolled in either French, Mandarin or Spanish at Sossaman Middle School.

Spanish enrollment is so high at Cooley Middle School that Principal Randy Mahlerwein offers 10 sections of the class to students and two sections of Mandarin.

Sossaman Middle School Principal Nancy Diab showed her pride in the new campus as she showed off the dance, drama, band and choir rooms.

“This is why the middle schools are so important. We are able to offer the kids so much more,” she said of the fine arts classes available.

Cooley and Sossaman Middle Schools were built by The James Megellas Foundation and include many options available to today’s 21st Century classrooms. With voter approval given last fall, the district signed a 40-year-lease for each building.

Sossaman will hold its school dedication Friday and Cooley will hold its school dedication Sept. 17.

The schools were constructed with today’s students in mind. Each campus – they are mirror images of each other – is two-stories, with a new early child development center at both sites. The schools have high-school sized gymnasiums, plus each has a stage and cafeteria.

Teachers all have interactive whiteboards in their rooms and surround sound speaker availability for lectures.

But lecturing is only part of the story. Teachers at the schools are already challenging students to think deeper through Socratic discussions and dive further into literature.

Mahlerwein said one English teacher plans to have her students read through 50 books this year alone.Like all Arizona public schools, Higley’s new middle schools are also fully embracing the Common Core State Standards.

“The Common Core Standards are raising rigor across all content areas,” Mahlerwein said.

Both school leaders are working to prepare their students for high school, while also going through the “growing pains” of opening new campuses. Students are excited about their new schools.

“It’s a new campus. We’re the first here. We’re the first ones to graduate. We get to set that bar high for the younger kids,” said Sossaman eighth-grader Lacey Whetten, 13, a resident of Queen Creek.

“This is way better than my experience in elementary school,” said Natali Castro, 14, an eighth-grader at Cooley Middle School. Castro’s family moved to Gilbert late in the summer. “These classes are harder. I needed the challenge. The teachers and staff are nice. They care about our learning.”

“The new schools will make a big difference for students,” Mahlerwein said.

“Now Higley Unified School District has a true transition from the elementary model to the middle school model,” Mahlerwein said. “Before, there was a shock value as students were coming out of the small elementary schools and into the large high schools.”

During the first five weeks of school, students have already formed their first student governments and clubs, attended each other’s volleyball and football games, and even met each other on the field.

(Sossaman won the first round of bragging rights after the football game. Cooley gained bragging rights after girls’ volleyball.)

“They have a strong sense of ownership. They feel this is their school,” Diab said.

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