DR. FERRIS GOES TO WASHINGTON
August 22, 2016 -- North Shore Middle School Principal Marc Ferris testified before the United States Senate Education Committee this past June 22 offering his thoughts on the difficult transition for students entering and leaving Middle School, and the efforts that schools can make in addressing student social and academic needs during those challenging periods. The invitation came about as a result of the recent passage of the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which places a new emphasis on education during early adolescence, with middle schools now being identified in federal regulation as a separate configuration from elementary and high school buildings, and North Shore Middle School having been named this past spring as an Essential Elements - School to Watch, the only school in New York state to have received that prestigious designation.
“It was a wonderful experience and opportunity to be able to travel to our nation’s Capitol to speak with members of Congress who care about education policy in our country,” Dr. Ferris said in response to questions from Northwordnews. “It was also a great honor to share the great work of my colleagues who have done so much to develop a middle school program that successfully transitions young adolescents from elementary school to middle school and then middle school to high school.”
Dr. Ferris, was chosen to speak to the Committee by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform- an alliance of over 60 educators, researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations and foundations committed to promoting the academic performance and healthy development of young adolescents. Only two other educators presented - a principal of a rural k-12 school and a Maryland teacher.
“Each community is different and may have different unique needs, which means that specific details about 'what is in place' is not as important as making sure that certain concepts are in place,” Dr. Ferris explained to the Committee.
Those concepts include, he continued, “that all students are provided with a strong sense of autonomy (they need to know their voices matter, that they can question, and be a part of the school community); they need a strong sense of competence (it needs to be clear to students what they need to be able to do to be successful so they can be successful); and they need a strong sense of relatedness (to feel cared about and supported in their learning).
“Research shows over and over again that when young people feel the power of those three feelings, they become more engaged in school, more part of a school community, and therefore more academically successful,” Dr. Ferris said.
As far as North Shore is concerned, he spoke of the various strategies it uses to facilitate those transitions including visitations by middle school sixth grade students to the elementary buildings and orientation days for elementary students at the middle school, as well as working with parents through meetings held at both schools and providing opportunities for families to take part in a "wisdom walk" through the Middle School. Additionally opportunities are provided for elementary and middle school teachers to meet and discuss students’ academic needs, and for guidance staff members and special education teachers at both levels to meet.
To prepare for the move to high school a variety of strategies are also used, he explained. Orientation for all incoming freshman is provided and high school students visit middle school classrooms to discuss their experiences. As for students with special needs, towards the end of their eighth grade year, they spend part of a day shadowing students at the high school. Additionally, there is a permanent member of the high school staff on the middle school child study team, whose responsibility it is to coordinate activities between both buildings to ensure that students with disabilities maintain a continuum of services as they transition into the high school program.
Dr. Ferris focused some his remarks on addressing the needs of at-risk students, in particular, the services and arrangements that "must be in place to identify and support those students that are most at risk for disengaging in schools." That disengagement, he explained, can "result in at risk behaviors that put the student and community at risk.”
As for his visit to the nation's capital overall, Dr. Ferris said that it was rewarding and educational experience that gave him the opportunity to meet with ‘hundreds of educators and other people that care about public education.”
“It was a eye opening and humbling to see so many committed people, creating wonderful programs for children across the nation.” he explained. “It energized me and got me excited for the school year ahead.”
Article by Northwordnews
Photos provided by Shelly Newman, North Shore Schools Director of Public Relations
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