How the Norwalk Middle School Choice program will work

NORWALK – When my son, now 48, was about to start kindergarten, Columbus Magnet School (now CMS) was brand new. I knew my son hated memorizing (he still does). I knew he hated being told what to do (still does). Columbus, with its more practical and student-centered philosophy, seemed to fit the bill perfectly. It was.

When my third child was about to enter middle school, I knew he would do better in a smaller, more community-oriented school than the one he had been assigned. Because a friend offered to babysit him after school, he was able to attend Roton Middle School as an out-of-district student. It was a good choice.

As a parent, I chose my children’s school based on their learning needs.

For the first time, Norwalk Public Schools will allow fifth-grade parents to exercise that kind of choice. All children will be assigned to a middle school based on the primary school they attend, as has been the practice for at least 60 years. However, if parents choose to send their child to another school, transportation will be provided.

It is not that special classes will be offered in every school. Instead, each school will have a different emphasis and approach. As a result, students can follow their interests, continue their learning from the magnetic elementary programs, and prepare for the choices available in secondary schools.

Different approaches integrated into the common core

“Each college has been positioned to provide specialized guidance in terms of learning opportunities,” said Eric Jackson, Principal of Nathan Hale Middle School.

These “slopes” are already integrated into school curricula.

The Ponus Ridge STEAM Academy has been working since 2019 to create units in which core subjects – math, language arts, and social studies – are integrated with science and the arts.

For example, the study of natural disasters is a unit for some seventh graders. They learn the science of hurricanes and storms, they learn to measure storms in math, they research and write about the impact of storms on communities, and in art they create brochures about storms. At the end of the unit, students make presentations to a panel of experts in the field.

“During these units, STEAM is integrated into their learning in all of their classrooms,” said Damon Lewis, Principal of Ponus Ridge. “In STEAM units, all teachers work together.” This year, a STEAM coordinator has been hired to help create more integrated units.

Choices align with high school curricula

School choice means parents can choose middle schools to align with the curriculum already available in high schools. Two schools, Nathan Hale and Roton, will incorporate the International Baccalaureate curriculum into their curricula.

The IB is an international program with rigorous global standards designed to create curious, competent and caring learners.

But students in these schools will not have to choose IB classes. The directors stressed that it will be IB for all.

“Once you become a Roton student, you will be engaged in the IB process,” said Roton principal Edward Singleton. He said the IB’s global focus works well with its current curriculum which offers Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and French.

“IB will be intentionally integrated into the program,” Jackson said. “All students will gain global awareness through project-based learning. We will have monthly assemblies to focus on one of the qualities of an IB learner. Last month, he said, they focused on openness in an assembly and in the classroom.

READ MORE: Middle School Choice program ‘makes no sense’ for some parents

At the secondary level, students can now choose the IB at Brien McMahon and, in the future, at Norwalk High School.

Similarly, West Rocks Middle School is developing a marine science course. Students will not take specialized courses. Instead, a partnership with the Maritimes Aquarium will allow all students to have hands-on learning at the aquarium in addition to classroom lessons.

“That’s the pattern,” said West Rocks manager Adam Reynolds. “Create a community partnership, integrate learning into classrooms, and create authentic learning experiences.” Currently, there is a marine science course at Brien McMahon that students can choose to take if a love of marine life is sparked at West Rocks.

Reynolds follows this same model to incorporate visual and performing arts into the curriculum. “We will seek to connect with a community partner, organize theater outings, increase school performances and provide authentic learning in the classroom,” he said. Norwalk High School offers a number of arts pathways as part of its offerings.

Choices align with elementary school curricula

School choice means that parents can choose middle schools that have programs similar to magnet elementary schools, even if their child has not attended a magnet school.

Nathan Hale incorporated the arts into his curriculum, much like Wolfpit Arts Magnet School. An integrating arts coach works with teachers to use the arts to enhance understanding and make learning more active.

“I’ve seen a lot of pantomime in science as they act out the rotation of the Earth,” Jackson said. “In social studies, kids created a choose-your-own drama about migrating to a big city.”

He said more than 100 students participated in the fall play and the spring musical.

“The arts,” he said, “are alive and well at Nathan Hale.”

All Wolfpit students will be assigned to Nathan Hale unless they choose to go elsewhere, but now Nathan Hale could be a choice for students from all parts of Norwalk.

West Rocks will continue to expand the bilingual program it hosts. Since Silvermine Dual-Language Magnet School feeds West Rocks, these students will be assigned to the West Rocks program to continue their language learning.

And Concord Magnet School (CMS) has had a college program for a few years. With the move to a new building next to Ponus Ridge STEAM Academy, CMS will increase the number of students in its program.

“Our small school has a strong sense of community, it’s intimate, and it eliminates the fear of making mistakes,” Principal Medard Thomas said. “Our subjects are woven together. It’s progressive, practical and the subjects are integrated together.

All CMS students can choose to continue in the middle school program, but other parents can also enroll their child in this school.

Next steps

Some parents were alarmed when it appeared everyone would have to make a choice for next year, but the district has since revised the plan and clarified how the program will work.

All children will be assigned to middle school based on the primary school they attend. However, students can choose to go to another school and transportation will be provided.

READ MORE: The Norwalk Middle School Choice program has changed. Here’s what you need to know.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Reynolds said. “We will have bumps in the road. You think as best you can, plan accordingly, and adjust as you go.

Information sessions will be held on Tuesday and October 19 and 26. An information fair is scheduled for Thursday. Parents are required to submit an application to participate in a lottery if they want to choose a college for their child.

For more information, visit the Norwalk Public School website.

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