By Tom Rohrer
Already in place within the district were accelerated programs in humanities and science at both the high school and elementary level.
However, there were no such programs at district middle schools before the start of the 2011 school year. The Olympia School District saw the need for accelerated programs for sixth through eighth grade students and had the opportunity to do so at Jefferson Middle School in West Olympia.
The Jefferson Accelerated Math and Science Program (JAMS) began as a district wide program last September for sixth grade students. This year, JAMS extended to seventh grade students, and next year eighth grade students will have the opportunity to enroll as well. The student self-selected program appears to be flourishing and is seeing positive reviews from students, parents, faculty and administration alike. No testing is required to enroll into the JAMS program.
“It’s been very successful and exciting,” said Nancy Faaren the Olympia School District Assistant Superintendent for K-12 Students. “It’s been better than we imagined and I think that we have parents and kids pleased with the teacher. They seem very excited with the curriculum.”
Jefferson Middle School had appropriate space to add two programs, with one focused on humanities, and the other a S.T.E.M. program (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics). It was important to the administration that the decision to participate in an accelerated program was driven by the students. All students within the district can enroll in the program, and although a majority of the student in JAMS live on the westside of the city, Faaren noted some students from east Olympia make the trek over to JMS.
“We had space at Jefferson and were looking to add two programs, “ Faaren said. “We floated the idea out to parents and invited kids to sign up. We didn’t have enough for humanities but had more than enough in the S.T.E. M. area. It was important that the kids wanted to be in the program and that they were willing to go the extra mile in this area of study.”
Jana Dean was brought in to teach the JAMS program last September, and has instilled a set of high expectations for her students to follow.
“Kids rise to the expectations of those teaching them, so I’ve set high expectations and created a supportive environment where they expect to be challenged,” Dean said. “To do that, they need to be willing to take risks. These are the kids that said ‘I’m up to the challenge, challenge me.’”
When watching Dean and the JAMS students, it’s clear she wants participation from every member of the class and for the students to work on their communication and problem solving skills.
“I think wherever you are in life, some of us are good at some things and none of us are good at everything and that’s one of the things I tell the students and make sure they understand,” Dean said. “Ideally, not every student masters what I’m teaching or that day’s lesson right away.”
“Everybody likes to be listened to,” Dean continued. “Once they listen and appreciate what others are saying, it clicks. I stress that the kids make statements that are meaningful to the class, the lesson and everything we’re learning.”
Some of the projects Dean’s class had been working on were creating electrical sockets using clothes pins, constructing bulb holders, and learning about levers and how climate change can affect the world.
Students within the program enjoy the curriculum and their teachers.
“Mrs. Dean is patient with us and she makes sure we really understand something before we go on to something else,” said sixth grader Kees Dolmas.
“It’s awesome and really lots of fun,” said sixth grader Katherine Lane. “I think everyone in here likes to work together and communicate while learning.”
Dean says that in her constant communication with parents, she’s hearing positive reviews.
“I’m in touch with parents all the time and I’ve heard great things,” Dean said. “The parents choose it.”
While the program should be considered a success in its first two years, the district will continue to look at other options and review the process.
“We’re analyzing who’s coming in, what qualities they have to make them successful,” Dean said. “It’s still a young program so it’s important we keep everything in focus.
“We will always look at what we can do, and how the kids have progressed,” said Faaren. “It’s an ongoing conversation. But at this point, we’re very pleased with what we’re seeing.”