Eighth-grade students who researched and then proposed some changes at Metcalf Middle School received real-life lessons through the classroom project.
It started with an assignment in Steve Orth’s Blaze Time class with Principal Shannon McParland invited to hear the students’ presentations. Blaze Time, which takes place at all middle schools in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191, is one class period each day focused on enrichment, acceleration or intervention programming for students. For Orth’s class, the assignment was an opportunity for enrichment and authentic learning.
Students’ suggestions (in brief) were:
- Advisory: Shorten it and make it like a study hall
- Chromebooks/electronics: Let them be used at lunch
- Passing time: Lengthen the current three-minute time by one to two minutes
- Field trips: Increase them to at least two per school year
- Stairwells: Open an additional stairwell during passing times
McParland took their suggestions to her school leadership team for discussion. In her return visit to the class, she announced that passing time would increase by one minute to give students four minutes to move between classes.
“Your voice matters,” she told students, “and when you propose changes the correct way with data and recommendations, you make possibilities become reality. That’s how change happens.”
She also gave updates on their other proposals:
- Advisory period will not be shortened but it is evolving to focus more on goal setting, organization and other work and life skills that will benefit students now and in the future.
- Chromebooks are banned at lunch by all three of the district’s middle schools to protect them from potential damage. “At Metcalf, you’re allowed to use phones by lockers, and that’s a privilege,” she said.
- By law, the school can’t charge for field trips that are connected to the curriculum. She’s looking into grants or other funding to expand opportunities for field trips so there’s at least one per grade each year.
- For the safety and security of students, an additional stairwell will not be opened, she said.
“I’m proud of you,” Orth told students. “You did more than you had to do with this assignment, and you even got one proposal approved. Plus Principal McParland left the door open for more dialogue.”
Orth wanted this to be an authentic learning opportunity for students. The goal was for them to see the value of not just gathering information, but also sharing their suggestions in order to bring about change.
“You didn’t get everything you proposed, but that’s real life,” he said. “You used your voices to advocate for change and to make a difference. Your voices matter.”
While talking with McParland, students brought up other changes they’d like to see like having an 8th grade overnight event at the school and reinstating the school newspaper.
“If you’re passionate about something then do the research, gather the data, develop the presentation and come talk with me and share the information,” she said.