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Parker Middle strives to transform itself

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Aeiyah Murphy, 12, works on a bell ringer activity in Ms. Woodley’s art class Monday at J.W. Parker Middle School.

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The principal of J.W. Parker Middle School is working to restore a sense of pride in the school that has been a part of the Rocky Mount community for many years.

“I believe that Parker Middle School is a community-based school, but not everyone in this community believes that they are as great as they can be,” said John Milliner-Williams, principal of the school. “The sense of pride we are trying to instill in students here can benefit families and the community.”

Williams is doing this at Parker Middle School as he and his staff are seeking to transform the culture of the school, help renew the focus on the learning environment of the school and help students see the connection between the work they do at school academically and their future earning potential and lifestyle. 

“Kids, especially in middle school, don’t always see that connection,” Williams said. “The test results impact administrators and teachers a lot more than they do the students because of that.”

Williams feels that helping students develop a sense of pride and accomplishment will aid in the transformation of school culture.

“If we start with the premise that if you care about something, you will put more into it, then developing a sense of pride in what they are doing should help students take ownership of their academic work. In the same way, we are helping teachers become more invested in the success of their students, so they are taking more ownership of their teaching as well,” Williams said.

Parker Middle faces some challenges academically. The school has consistently earned an F on the school report for the past three years and has only met growth once out of the past three years. However, the school has good reason to hope for the future. The school was awarded a five-year $2,612,829 school improvement grant that began last year, and the school is now undergoing the “whole school transformational model” as a result.

The grant is designed to provide both parents and students with additional resources to support learning and change the school culture. One of the most obvious transformations is the new seating options students have in several classrooms. In addition to the traditional hard chairs, students in some classrooms have the option of more flexible seating such as “jellyfish” chairs, “wobbles,” bouncy chairs and yoga ball chairs. Students can even choose to stand up at standing desks.

“These seating options allow kids more freedom and help them use up their nervous energy,” Williams said. “If a kids likes to move or rock back and forth as they study, they can do that.”

The school is hoping to have the seating choices available in all classrooms by the end of the five-year grant. New flexible tables in the classrooms also allow for more collaborative efforts, something Williams said will help students in the future.

“We are putting a new emphasis on collaborative teaching,” Williams said. “Students often learn more effectively when they are working together. Research has shown that this type of connection is a deficit in this generation. Even though we have all this social media, kids don’t really connect. But collaboration is a skill that is valued at college where they will do more group projects and in the marketplace, when they look for jobs.”

The SIG grant also is allowing the school to put in more academic supports including two instructional coaches for teachers and two student support specialists, one of whom is hired through the school districts partnership with Communities In Schools. Parker Middle School has also hired a new instructor with the grant money to oversee the “Pirate’s Cove”, an in-house alternative learning environment for students who have committed non-violent acts that would otherwise qualify for out of school suspension.

“The Pirate’s Cove helps keep the learning going on,” Williams said. “And because many of these students are already behind in some subjects, it gives kids a chance to build up their skills in areas where they need help.”

Some of the SIG grant money is also going to benefit parents in the school’s innovative Pride Parent Academy. The program, which is designed for parents who are unemployed or underemployed, pays parents a weekly stipend of $200 a week to take classes at the school four mornings a week for an eight-week period. The classes, which are taught in collaboration with the Opportunities Industrialization Center, cover soft skills designed to help parents become more employable such as resume writing, GED training, interviewing skills, on-site job training and more.

“We found that parents with jobs are better able to provide for students, so by supporting parents in this effort, we are benefitting students and helping to lift the burden at home,” said Sheldon Bulluck, who serves as the school improvement grant coordinator.

Bulluck said the school also has some new extracurricular options they can take pride in like the new football field which allows the school to have home games for the first time. Some new clubs are available as well. The Boys to Men mentorship program and the girl’s Rising Phoenix program are designed to help students with life skills they need as they approach adulthood. A new Bright Minds Club is also soon starting that will teach chess to students.

Aramith Trimiar, the business CTE teacher, said chess is a good way to teach students skill they need for life.

“Chess is life,” Trimiar said. “Students learn to not make impulsive decisions but to plan and act strategically.”

Bulluck said he believes all these changes will make a difference and will help scores at the school slowly improve. Williams said the school is already seeing improvement in some areas.

And that is something the school can really be proud of.

 

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