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Student Voice, Student Choice

Future City

Two years ago, enrichment classes at HCMS, those classes outside of core content subjects like math and language arts, were pretty standard. Students had little choice – taking arts and humanities, physical education (PE) and health, at each grade level, each year of middle school.

“They’re really weren’t any choices,” said HCMS Principal Lucia Hughes. “So in arts and humanities you would get a little bit of drawing, a little bit of painting, a little bit of all the arts. That was only for a nine-week period and so it’s just a few days of that and a few days of this. In health, everybody got the same and in PE, everybody got the same.”

Hughes noticed that in some of these classes in particular, students were exhibiting behavioral problems. 

“My thinking was that a lot of students were in a class that they didn’t really care to be in, that they had no interest there,” Hughes said. “It seemed like behaviors were arising when they were in classes they had no interest in.”

That’s when Hughes developed the idea to provide more options to students. She thought if students had “more voice and more choice” in the classes they took, behaviors would improve. Initially, the idea was to develop a larger variety of arts and humanities options.

Enter Andy Buchholz, HCMS arts and humanities teacher, who was tasked with surveying students and teachers to create a list of courses that would meet the needs and interests of both. It didn’t take him long to think past his own content area. He also considered students enrolled in band and chorus who had even more limited options when it came to elective classes.

“I started by thinking, what would I want to do that would be enjoyable for the kids that we could really get into?” Buchholz said. “Then I started thinking how could we do this with PE? Why don’t we figure out a way to let kids choose what kind of enrichment they want to do?”

Buchholz solicited feedback from teachers asking them what they’d like to teach, and built the offerings around their input. From there, students were presented with options for their required and elective classes. Each class has a curriculum and learning targets, which tend to be more specific given the time allotted to present more in-depth content.

“The intent was that if we focus more on some of these things, they can be more rigorous because they are more engaging to the kids so you can draw them in and really crank up what you’re asking them to do,” Buchholz said. “We’ve basically refined and enhanced what we were doing.”

Classes are offered each nine weeks, with different options available to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. Offerings change each year based on student and staff interests and need. For example, this nine weeks, options for students include drawing, painting, film making, cardio, weightlifting, sculpture, book club, engineering, flight sim, construction, outdoor sports and indoor sports, Broadway or bust, mythology, robotics, public speaking, brain games, photography, video game design, cinema studies, Kentucky history, mythbusters and many more.

Sixth-grader Emily Nitschke enrolled in painting this nine weeks because she likes to color and wanted to try painting.

“I’m not a sporty person. I like to stay inside and create things; a class like this suits my interests better,” Nitschke said. “And I’m actually learning a lot. I learned about complementary colors on the color wheel and how to mix colors to make other colors. Plus, I wanted to try something new and this is pretty fun.”

Avery Stivers, an eighth-grader, picked Future City for his enrichment class. In the class, he collaborates with a group of students to design and build a city of the future.

“I wanted to take this class because it involved engineering, which is the field I plan to go into. I’m interested in building aircraft,” Stivers said. “I think this class is going to be pretty cool. It’s fun to think outside the box.”

Hughes and Buchholz acknowledged that scheduling this many options can be challenging and is certainly more time-consuming that just offering the basics, but that the end result is worth the extra effort.

“Kids are happier and teachers are happier. It gives that teacher more time to concentrate on that artform or on that specific subject, so they don’t feel so rushed to include all that content,” Hughes said. “I think it gives kids a lot more opportunity in their middle school career – we offer a lot of options, a ton of different options they can choose.”

Students in turn are participating in classes they find interesting and enjoyable.

“It’s definitely led to increased student engagement. Developing student interest in middle school is very high on the list of things you need to be doing for your students,” Buchholz said. “They are trying to figure out who they are socially and mentally, and what they are going to become. Playing to their interests and engaging them in things they find unique, interesting and enjoyable is definitely a very important part of what we should be doing in middle school.

“This is one way of giving them opportunities to figure that out and maybe find an interest that they didn’t know they had because they had an opportunity at school that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

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