Football, yoga and hipster handcrafts help to build school unity
Left: Students in the "Invention by Destruction" enrichment class take apart old technology to create something new.
PARKER - French film and food, hipster handcrafts, sword-fighting and Zumba are just some of the more than 50 classes that Sierra Middle School is now offering through its new enrichment program— a program that school personnel credit for helping to build new relationships and unity at the school this year.
Every student at the school is enrolled in a class of their choosing based on their area of interest, with classes meeting twice per week on block-schedule days. Sierra teachers and administrators began conceptualizing the enrichment program last school year as a way to engage students outside of the typical classroom structure. Teachers see it as a way to introduce new topics they can teach the kids while at the same time gaining the opportunity to meet more kids outside of the classes they were already teaching. Additionally, Sierra students get to meet more kids from the school that they may not otherwise meet during the school day.
“They may be joined in a class with kids from other grades who may not on their team, and that are led by teachers they might not know or have classes with, to do an activity that they are interested in,” said Brent Sheffield, who is a teacher at Sierra Middle School and has helped to create the enrichment program. “We’ve created a whole bunch of opportunities for students, whether it is yoga, or learning to solve a Rubik's cube or playing soccer. The teachers here at Sierra have done a really good job coming up with things they are interested in and think students would be interested in.”
As a result of the enrichment program, Sheffield says the school is proactively fostering positive relationships between students at the school and between students and teachers.
“It creates a more unified school in the end,” he said. “The overwhelming sentiment is that it’s been a really positive change in how students feel about school in general.”
In fact, school staff say they can feel a heightened energy from students on enrichment days.
“In general, talking to students, they have said that they have really enjoyed being able to have a break from the normal routine, especially on block days,” Sheffield said. “Some students told me today that they really love enrichment because those block days get really long when they have classes that last well over an hour. With enrichment, they get one 45-minute class on those days where they can get out, they can move, they can be in a new environment with new kids learning new things, and then they can go back to their block classes. It refreshes them.”
The students have the opportunity to change their enrichment class each quarter, so if a class fills up and they do not get their first choice in one quarter, they have another opportunity to take that class a few months later. Sheffield himself taught a flag football enrichment this past fall, culminating in a mini tournament. This quarter he is running a basketball enrichment and teaching kids to juggle.
“It gets better every quarter as teachers come up with new ideas and they hear what students want to do,” he said.
As Sierra is part of the Chaparral High School feeder, the new enrichment program is also helping to provide new opportunities to build feeder unity, a major goal of the schools within the Chaparral feeder. For example, one of the classes is collaborating with Chaparral students to put on a “trashion” show (a fashion show composed of fashions made out of recycled materials).
“We’re excited to discover new partnerships the enrichment program is helping us build with other schools within the Chap feeder. This is particularly true of our Sources of Strength initiative. Our sponsors have sought to align their work with Chaparral’s Sources of Strength group,” said Sierra Assistant Principal, Chris Stairs.
Social programs at the school that emphasize relationships, such as Sources of Strength, as well as student council and a new girls’ club, allow students to meet during the enrichment class period, providing expanded safety and prevention opportunities for Sierra. Continually building this culture is important to Sierra staff, especially when opportunities for groups like this can be limited due to the school not being geographically embedded within a neighborhood.
“For Sierra Middle School, where we’re not built inside of a neighborhood and where kids get on the bus and leave at the end of the day, this has given us a chance to give kids a lot more access to activities that they wouldn’t otherwise have inside of the day,” Sheffield said. “As a school we are communicating to students that we really value these activities.”