Principal Katie May reported the approval of the social studies waiver in the Sept. 22 Pup Press:
We now have formal permission (the “waiver”) from Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland to blend our General Education and Highly Capable Cohort students for the social studies portion of our day. I want to be sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what will happen.
All of our students will continue to work with the same Districtwide social studies curriculum. In addition, we teach this subject in part to prepare our students to:
- engage in respectful discourse with others who may have different beliefs,
- develop a respect for the values of a diverse and democratic society, and
- safeguard their rights and the rights of others.
Our staff believes that the best way to prepare our students for a diverse society is to teach these skills not in separate classrooms, but in a diverse setting. We believe that social studies is as much about the process of learning to work together as it is about the content that we teach. Our students have much to teach and learn from each other – all have a richer and more rigorous experience when they are challenged to think critically about ideas that are different from their own.
There has been strong staff and parent support for this work. We have been in close communication with our families through each step of the process, through regular updates in our school newsletter, through Equity Action Team meetings which are open to everyone, and through my letters to the community. I have received many supportive emails from families about the equity work we are doing.
As I discuss our equity work on school tours, a number of families – both Gen. Ed. and HCC, both white and families of color – have told me that they would not consider sending their child to TM except for the work we are doing in this area. They worry about the message we send to children when we separate students along color lines – albeit unintentionally.
This year our teacher’s Professional Learning Communities will revolve around social studies learning. Our PLCs meet weekly and will be examining not just the state’s social studies standards, but also the Framework for 21st Century skills and Common Core Standards related to social studies. Each grade-level team will determine the essential skills for their grade and design common assessments. As they review student data from assessments, they will design interventions for students who need more support and re-teaching, and for students who need enrichment. Our teachers are skilled in differentiation, as there is a wide range of ability in each of our classes, whether they serve HCC or General Education students.
The approval of our waiver means that each grade will mix classes 3 times per week for 30-45 minutes (depending on grade level). We want to support all our students in this endeavor and so we will be creating norms and charters for our social studies groups in line with our RULER Program. Teachers will collaborate to create structures for “Accountable Talk” – teaching students to respectfully disagree with, to challenge, and to build on each other’s ideas. These skills benefit all of our students and will support them in mixed groups as well as when they are with their respective cohorts.
We have created a Social Studies Steering Committee with staff and parents from the HCC and Gen. Ed. programs. It will meet monthly to review our process and progress and create a plan to respond to any concerns or unintended negative consequences that arise. These stakeholders will help to ensure that this plan benefits all of our students.
Our plan to evaluate the results of the change to our Social Studies Program is to look at several types of data:
- Feelings of belonging and self-efficacy as measured by our student climate survey and shorter surveys based on climate-survey questions and given to students each trimester;
- Academic outcomes – we will be carefully monitoring student progress on our assessments from our baseline classroom-based assessments to our SBA scores in English Language Arts;
- Attendance data – knowing that our students who feel a strong sense of engagement with school are less likely to be absent; and
- Parent Survey data as we solicit parent feedback about our progress.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts! [Ms. May can be contacted at email@example.com or 206-252-2800.]