AMY Northwest, a special admission middle school in Roxborough, does not just rely on students’ academic excellence and personal growth for success.
The teachers, staff, and parents also play a pivotal role by providing students with endless opportunities.
“We have a tremendous middle-school team who genuinely care about our students and put them first,” said principal Jodan Floyd. “They have so much creativity in their classes and show so much compassion for our students and families. They always bring new and exciting ideas to the table. They are so amazing. We wouldn’t be able to do anything as a school without them.”
AMY has a school-wide initiative based around social emotional learning. The day often starts with 30-minute morning meetings, which includes conversations around different topics and activities that occur daily. On Wednesdays, the meetings consist of a deeper topic.
“We have a running document with topics and ideas,” said art teacher Walter Myrick. “Sometimes the news in society dictates what we may need to talk about and we add those questions in. During the meetings, we just talk about the issues.
“It’s not scripted as much as it’s more here is a topic and if you need guided questions to lead the discussion here are some suggestions,” he added. “The morning meetings are really all about building relationships with students, so that when we do go back to school we have a nice foundation.”
AMY has a student support services team that includes dean Michelle Brathwaite, school based teacher leader Kristen Hettel, school counselor Lori Blanco, and nurse Adrienne Metzinger.
The team works together to check in with students and parents, set goals and put services in place for student success, and try to remove any barriers for school participation during virtual learning.
“We spend a lot of time on attendance, we make sure that we know why the students may be missing classes and then troubleshoot with them,” Blanco said. “We help students set up office hours with their teachers.
“The teachers have been really great about giving us any information that a child might need for some support. Then one of us goes and works with the student to figure out what they may need. We’ve done quite a bit of referring out for mental health services. We as a group meet daily to go over all different issues.”
Hettel said that sometimes students just reach out to them because they need additional support and encouragement.
“Sometimes the students just want us to be their cheerleaders,” Hettel said. “They just need to hear somebody say, “We know you can do this or let’s work on this together. When that happens, we realize that we need to prioritize our time, reconnect with students, and continue with goal setting.”
Teachers at AMY have found innovative ways to teach their students virtually. To help enhance students’ virtual group work in class, English language arts seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Gavin Torissi is using Google Classroom and Docs for his students.
“The cool thing about working in Google Classrooms is that if I prompt students to make a note response I can look at what they’re doing at the same time we’re on Zoom,” Torissi said. “I can then share the response with everyone else if I choose. Google Docs can also work well as a collaborative tool.
“If you have a small group that does one part in a text and another group does another part, you can have a demonstration of the document,” he added. “Every time the students put in their comments, it’s like they’re having a silent conversation with each other.”
While students in Stephanie McKenna’s English class would often have creative writing assignments just on Fridays before the pandemic, she has since done more assignments based around the artistic expression.
“With us being virtual, creative writing has really been a great outlet for my students,” McKenna said. “Some of the students are really stepping out of their comfort zone.
“Students who you may never hear from in a chat or participate in class are coming alive in their writings,” she added. “It’s also been a great way for me to learn a lot about the students either between conferencing or just reading their writing. It’s been a great outlet.”
In Mary Jones’ sixth- and seventh-grade science classes, students are getting an opportunity to interact with scientists via Skype.
“Skype with scientists is an opportunity for scientists who are working in the field to come in and talk to my classes,” Jones said. “My sixth-graders are learning about earth science so in December scientists came in and talked to them about our planet in space and the possibility of space travel.
“We recently had another scientist come in and talked about the force of motion, which is a branch of physics, to our seventh-grade class,” she added. “To have someone come in working in the field and talk about what they do gives our kids a really unique virtual experience in science; the students really love it.”
Prior to the pandemic, Myrick was used to teaching his students hands-on art lessons. Now he uses Canvas Learning Management System to teach his students art digitally.
“Digital work is not really my strong suit, I work really good with pencil and paper,” Myrick said. “For my art class, we tried some things and we learned together.
“The best thing about art this year was I got to watch my students teach me how to use the platform after I taught them the skills. With Canvas, students are still able to do their projects.
“Instead of doing their projects on paper, they can go online and create their project by importing actual images onto their computer and then drawing their work on the image from the computer,” he added. “Students are still able to be creative and express themselves in my class, but now they’re just doing it in a different way.”