• Sixth-graders, from left, Paradise Cozzart, Makylah Powers and Quijuan Madison-Lewis talk about favorite weekend activities
  • Teacher Renee Lahiff talks about what she likes to do on weekends before passing on the ball, which indicates whose turn in is to speak
  • Students play tag

A Little Attention, A Big Difference

by Erin Albanese  

A disorganized sixth-grader is certainly not a rarity, but might normally fly under a busy teacher's radar. Damian Cervantes, however, is getting the help he needs from teacher Renee Lahiff, who planned to assist him in sorting and decluttering his folders.

"I'll remind you to bring them in Monday," said Lahiff to Damian, who is in her TEAM class at Kelloggsville Middle School. Damian's parents and other teachers noticed his messy papers and brought it to Lahiff's attention.

The new class sets aside a half-hour each day for the "extras" many middle schoolers can benefit from: socializing, homework help; discussion of serious issues like mental health and healthy relationships; and learning life skills such as dining etiquette, pursuing a career –– or organizing folders.

TEAM stands for Trustworthiness, Encouragement, Achievement and Manners, with the emphasis that "We are all on the same team." All sixth- through eighth-graders take the class, which was added in September when the school switched from a seven- to six-period day, leaving a half-hour gap to fill, said Principal Jim Alston.

"It's a way to build relationships with staff and students," Alston said. "I'm hearing positives from teachers and students. They are getting work done. Students are able to talk to teachers about things going on in the hallways. ... Teachers are able to give some clues on how to handle different situations. Students might not feel comfortable talking to someone else."

With school largely focused on meeting state curriculum standards, TEAM provides time to meet other needs that, given a little attention, could make a big difference. Smushed between core classes and lunch, the time allows students to check their grades, play games and talk.

"It's helped me with getting my grades up," Damian said. "It's helped me understand my friends and who they are and what they're like."

Sixth-grader Alejandra Panigua made a picture for TEAM timeAddressing a Unique Set of Needs

TEAM is a return to a practice once fairly common in middle school, the unique "in-between" age between elementary and high school. As a group, students and teachers addressed topics like bullying, hygiene and peer influences. Over the years, however, it largely fell to the wayside to provide more time for content and test preparation.

But Lahiff said she is seeing the benefit in providing TEAM time. She's grown close to the 22 students in her class. Sixth-grader Alejandra Panigua presented her with a picture designed with the words "Lahiff's TEAM" and the words it stands for spelled out in rainbow colors.

"The whole design of TEAM time was to give the kids more academic support," Lahiff said. "We get to get away from teaching the standards and get time to get to know our students a little bit more on a personal level, which helps connect. If kids feel comfortable at school, they are more likely to perform better academically and behavior-wise.

"The more support we can give our kids, obviously the better."

Jose Ortiz said he likes games and activities in TEAM timeGetting to Know Each Other

Each day of the week has a different theme: Motivational Monday is when students share good news and check grades; Tuesdays and Thursdays are spent on academics; Wednesdays on life skills and Friday on team-building and community service.

On a recent Friday, Lahiff commended students for hard work. "I gave out lots of rewards for all A's. l appreciate that you're working hard and keeping your grades up," she told them. She then set them loose in the gym to play book-themed tag.

After they returned to the classroom, the 22 students shared what they like to do on the weekends. "I like going to my grandma's house," said Paradise Cozzart. "I like to play with my Xbox," said Jose Ortiz.

They then voted as a class on March Madness March is Reading Month, competing with other classes as a team to name the winning book.

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SNN Article about Unique Needs of Middle School Students

Submitted on: March 28th 2017

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