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We love highlighting our middle school educators in The Young Adolescent Times, our CAMLE member newsletter! If you are interested in submitting an article for an upcoming newsletter or, if you know of someone that is doing amazing work and would like to recommend that person as an author let us know. Please fill out this form with that information. We look forward to partnering with you!

  • 14 Sep 2023 7:24 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Keely Garren

    Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have been widely utilized in education for over two decades. Recently, re-scaling the PLC process through professional development in schools and districts has become popular to ensure that each educator has a solid foundation in the four questions that guide the PLC process and that each educator can engage in the PLC process from their unique educator role. The PLC process focuses on improving student learning and achievement. 

    Defining a PLC

    PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) are educators who are committed to sharing knowledge and learning. Meeting regularly to discuss ways to serve their students through improved practice is essential in any school serious about increasing student achievement.

    Under its core principle, continuous job-embedded learning for educators will ultimately positively affect student learning. At these meetings, educators share and analyze data while also creating norms to facilitate effective collaboration.

    PLCs are distinguished by an inquiry mindset -- the willingness to challenge assumptions, test ideas, and learn from failure - along with a culture of trust and cooperation among educators. This framework can be utilized effectively in schools K-12.

    Creating a Vision for PLCs

    PLCs are used to enhance teaching and learning in classrooms through collaborative processes that use teacher-created professional standards and data-driven decision-making to make better educational practices possible. Through PLC protocols, educators explore student academic growth data at individual, classroom, school, and district levels.

    Teams then use this data to develop strategies for improving classroom instruction and student outcomes. A data-driven approach seeks to determine student mastery of specific learning targets while offering support to those who require it; it can also enhance school leadership effectiveness.

    Creating a Mission for PLCs

    For PLCs to succeed, educators must commit themselves to the idea that learning should be continuous for students and staff alike - an enormous change that affects how the school runs.

    PLC educators must collaborate and share expertise among themselves while at the same time being able to analyze data and make decisions regarding instructional strategies. 

    As part of your effort to increase buy-in among teachers, it's vital that regular meetings take place where educators can discuss the collective commitments that define the PLC. Meetings themed around collective commitments may prove effective at stimulating discussions that bring teachers together around these collective commitments. 

    Creating a Culture for PLCs

    Through PLCs, teachers can form positive relationships that foster an environment of collaboration, equity, and continuous improvement within schools K-12. Embracing a culture of collaboration promotes collective efficacy and can lead to positive student learning outcomes. The PLC process uses data to make decisions rather than intuition or personal preferences, providing greater insights into what works and why, leading to a stronger school culture overall. To embrace data, a sense of belonging and safety must be fostered, as a level of vulnerability is needed to be reflective within a group and try new approaches to learning.

    Creating a Structure for PLCs

    An effective PLC requires cooperative effort and an unshakeable belief that everyone can reach their maximum potential; without an organized group structure, this cannot happen. Setting a meeting agenda and including a facilitator are essential steps toward running an effective PLC. A facilitator should understand its culture while leading group discussions effectively while keeping student learning at the center of the conversation. Teachers should also be encouraged to share ideas and resources between meetings. For example, one teacher could visit another class to observe an effective strategy being utilized before discussing it further with its host teacher later. This strategy helps foster the collaborative nature of a PLC while simultaneously encouraging growth and improvement over time.

  • 9 Sep 2023 2:01 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Dr. Rebecca McKinney

    In Colorado, students are identified as needing gifted services in various strength areas, which span academic and talent domains including visual and performing arts, drama, leadership, and creative productive thinking. While I didn't list all the possible strength areas here, gifted students may enter your classroom with a variety of different strengths and learning needs. It is necessary to remember that each student is unique in order to address gifted students' learning needs. In gifted education, you will often hear, "If you have met one gifted student, you have met one gifted student."

    While there are specific strategies that I could jump into, I want to begin with addressing what I have found to be an essential foundation that must be present for gifted students to thrive within your classroom. The great news is that this foundation supports all students. These foundational building blocks cut across content areas and help create an environment in which gifted students will thrive. For any instructional strategy you implement to be effective, creating a classroom grounded in belonging is essential.  I specifically use the term belonging rather than inclusion when speaking about the environment necessary for students, not just gifted students, to thrive. The reason for this distinction is that inclusion is a choice. Someone outside of the individual impacted decides to include them or not. Belonging is a deep connection/feeling by the impacted individual that they are seen, valued, and can be their true self. 

    By creating a sense of belonging for students in your classroom, students feel connected and able to be their true selves. This is so vital as many gifted students go underground in middle school. They try to fit in, hide their abilities, and deny their talents. Therefore, your classroom environment plays a key role in allowing students to be their authentic selves in middle school.  

    I want to share a story from several years ago when I was working with a group of middle school teachers. State assessments were around the corner, and the teachers were developing lessons to build student confidence and motivation. So, it was not your typical lesson planning session but one I remember not for the fantastic lessons designed but for the interaction among the teachers. The teacher leading this work proposed sharing stories of famous people who had struggled in school yet had become incredibly successful. She had developed a suggested list of names, which included Harrison Ford. As they discussed possible ways to approach the lessons, one teacher pushed back and said that she didn't feel Harrison Ford was relevant to the middle schoolers in her classroom.  She felt Abraham Lincoln would be more relevant. I watched as the teacher leading this work's jaw dropped. She wasn't quite sure how to respond. Now I should mention that this meeting was just as the Star Wars movies were being re-released, and it was all the rage, especially with middle school boys. Another teacher scribbled on a sticky note, "He helped blow up the Death Star!" The exclamation point echoed the exasperation in his voice as he shared this fact with his fellow teacher.

    I share this as an example of the importance of knowing what is relevant to your students and how not knowing can lead to challenges. The teacher who felt Abraham Lincoln was more relevant was one who needed help with student engagement and performance. You can probably guess that the teacher who scribbled the sticky note had a different experience with those same students. I kept that sticky note at my desk over the years to remind me of how vital relevance is to students. It also served as a reminder of our role as teachers to create a classroom in which they have a sense of belonging and can develop into autonomous students. Autonomous students take ownership of their learning and do not depend on outside forces to guide their learning. My big takeaway from the experience was: What is relevant to us isn't always what is relevant to our students, and relevance is necessary for there to be belonging. Another takeaway: When in doubt, ask the students!

    Belonging can only happen when students feel seen and heard. This requires us to create conditions for appropriate rigor for all students. I define rigor as content that allows students to grapple with new and unique thinking, pushing them to make connections, bring in prior knowledge, and make meaning for themselves. Research has shown that as many as 35% of 5th graders start the year scoring at levels expected by the end of the year and, 15% of students in grades 3 through 8 perform at least three grade levels ahead in Reading, and 6% do so in Math. That's a staggering number of students who by the time they reach middle school and are assigned to your class who have already mastered a large portion of your grade level standards. 

    Here are some tips for creating a rigorous classroom environment which can support the needs of these students who are coming to your classroom with existing mastery of standards:

    • Get to know your student's strengths, interests, and learning styles.

    • Use pre assessment to guide instruction and compact lessons for students who have already mastered material to be taught.

    • Be flexible and willing to adjust your teaching methods as needed. 

    • Provide opportunities for students to collaborate and work with intellectual peers.

    • Encourage students to take risks and try new things. 

    • Celebrate the process, not only the product. 

    The variety of instructional strategies you can employ with gifted students is as diverse as the gifted students you will encounter in your classroom. There is no way I could even scratch the surface of effective instructional strategies in this article. So I leave you with this, when in doubt, reach out to your district's gifted teacher, coordinator, or director for support. The most important thing is to celebrate strengths and create belonging for all of your students in your classroom.


    Addressing excellence gaps: Ability grouping. (n.d.). 

    Gifted education terms and definitions. CDE. (n.d.). 

    Kamenetz, A. (2020, August 24). Getting restless at the head of the class. KERA News. 

    Dr. Rebecca McKinney currently serves as the Director of Gifted Education for the Colorado Department of Education and has been in education for over 25 years.

  • 9 Aug 2023 7:24 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    Last month, we explored the benefits of becoming a School to Watch.  And, if you’re in the same boat as the rest of us, you’re currently preparing a launch a new school year and summer is behind you.

    Do you know what that means?  It’s time to begin the application process to become one of Colorado’s Schools to Watch!  While it is a simple process, it contains several components that must be done in a timely manner.

    First, get familiar with the CAMLE website.  There, you’ll see deadlines, the organization for the application document and important contact information.  Our state director, Katie, is a tremendous resource if you have questions.

    The application process includes three steps:  the application document, a staff self-study, and a school visit.  These happen in order, with the school visit taking place last to verify practices that are in place.  The application is due November 17, so get started right away!

    The application document is broken into five sections: Self-Study Rubric, Descriptive Information, Narrative, Recent Changes, and Assurances.  In order to complete them, you’ll want to be sure to have a team from your school to give feedback and ideas and you’ll need to schedule blocks of time to write the application sections and have staff complete the self-study.  Finally, you want to keep the documents organized.  Each section of the application is a separate document that compiles data and information.  Together, they’ll all be submitted to the State Director.

    Within each section, you’ll share information about your school that helps the board see why your school is a School to Watch.  Below will help you make sure you have the right information on hand to have a successful work session:  

    Descriptive Information:  This includes demographic information about your student and students.  This includes ethnicity, disaggregated data, and state achievement data over the last three years.  

    Narrative:  This section is broken into two parts:  School information and plans for the future.  The first part is an opportunity to narratively describe how your school exemplifies each of the four domains of The National Forum (which we’ll explore in next month’s blog post).  The second part focuses on what your school plans to do next to continue addressing action items and achieving desired outcomes.  

    Recent Changes:  In this section, you summarize any changes that have taken place at your school in the last year.  This could be staffing attrition or turnover, and changes in the leadership.  

    Assurances:  This section requires signatures from you, your supervisor, and your superintendent (or other governing body).  

    Self-Study Rubric: And, this last component may be listed last but is important to consider first.  Throughout the application period, every staff member should complete a rating rubric of current practices at your school.  You can access this rubric and get the school-specific link set up by requesting access to the State Director.  Share the link with staff at the beginning of your application writing process and give them a deadline.  Once everyone has completed it, you’ll receive a report back that you submit with your Schools to Watch application.  

    Once all of these sections have been completed, you package them up in an email to our State Director, Katie Gustafson.  Think of it this way -- the application is the school’s turn to document all of the evidence to show why it is a Schools to Watch.  

    Be on the lookout for next month’s article, which will review the four criteria of The National Forum.  To learn more about The National Forum, visit their website:  To learn more about CAMLE and membership offerings, visit their website:

    Ryan Masciotra is a principal at Corwin International Magnet School in Pueblo, CO - which has been a Colorado School to Watch since 2013 (2013, 2019, 2023).  CIMS is a grades 4-8 International Baccalaureate World School and was established in 2008. 

  • 1 Jul 2023 5:19 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: By: Ryan Masciotra, Principal 

    Note: This is the second in a series to help Colorado middle schools navigate the journey to becoming a School to Watch.

    Last month, we explored the history and meaning behind Schools to Watch.  Let’s look at the benefits!  Linked to the Schools to Watch suite are three forms of association that focus on enhancing education at the middle grades.  

    Schools that are recognized for the STW award become a part of a tremendous professional base that offers collaboration, networking, and professional development.  This begins with CAMLE, the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education.  Each year, recognized schools receive dated banners and are featured at the annual CAMLE conference.  Not only does the conference offer professional development sessions from schools to watch all over the state, but it provides outstanding learning from quality keynote presenters.  Official Schools to Watch can present at the conference and share their excellence practices with others.  The conference takes place in October and is open for registration now!

    Along with CAMLE conference participation, Schools to Watch staff can join to become CAMLE members.  Membership includes professional communication, discounted conference registration, access to in depth book studies with other middle level educators, and more.  A dual membership is also available, which includes a membership to AMLE - the Association of Middle Level Education.  Benefits include access to a multitude of resources, discounts on professional literature, voting rights, and discounted state conference registration.  

    Finally, Schools to Watch can join the National Forum (and be recognized at the national conference).  Membership has three tiers and comes with access to publications, a discussion board, and early-bird registration for the national conference.  The conference, held in Washington, DC each June, features breakout sessions from current Schools to Watch, vetted keynote speakers, and an opportunity to connect with educational lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  This year’s conference featured teacher and author Erin Gruwell from The Freedom Writer’s Diary and teacher Dwayne Reed. 

    Be on the lookout for next month’s article, which will outline the application process for becoming a School to Watch.  To learn more about The National Forum, visit their website:  To learn more about CAMLE and membership offerings, visit their website:

    Ryan Masciotra is a principal at Corwin International Magnet School in Pueblo, CO - which has been a Colorado School to Watch since 2013 (2013, 2019, 2023).  CIMS is a grades 4-8 International Baccalaureate World School and was established in 2008.  

    Works Cited

    “/ /.” / / - Wiktionary, Accessed 1 July 2023.

    “MEMBERSHIP.” The National Forum | Schools to Watch, Accessed 1 July 2023.

    “Membership Benefits.” AMLE, Accessed 1 July 2023.

  • 29 May 2023 8:29 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Ryan Masciotra, Principal 

    Everyone in the education system knows that reinventing the wheel is for the birds, right?  In the day and age of multifaceted roles, revolving situations, and never-ending needs, who has time to stop and create systems from scratch?  Not educators, specifically those working in the middle school grades.  

    Like many other professions, finding out what works and reproducing it in schools across the map just makes sense.  Insert The National Forum into the picture.  Dating back to the mid nineties, educators formed an organization focused on improving education at the middle level.  “The mission of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform is to unite key stakeholders to speak with a common voice to leverage research, policy, leadership, and replicable practices to drive middle grades reform.” (  Together, members of this group established vetting criteria that characterizes “thriving middle-grades schools”.  Today, this is instilled in the Schools to Watch rubric - outlining social equity, developmental responsiveness, academic excellence, and innovative systems.  Since 1997, The National Forum has been a network of flourishing middle schools that meet and exceed elements of this rubric, becoming schools to watch and learn from in order to excel in the middle grades.  Today, there are hundreds of Schools to Watch across the country, noted in seventeen different states.  Schools are recognized triannually at the national conference in Washington, DC each summer.  

    In line with a progressive system, applying schools must go through a detailed application process that requires both school submissions and in-school practitioner feedback through a school visit.  The results are shared with a board of directors that examine the school’s practices compared to the Schools to Watch visit, ending in a vote for recognition.  While selected as a School to Watch for a three year period, schools become touring grounds for other educators, provide professional development sessions and conference breakouts, and provide exemplars for others in the field.

    Among partner states, Colorado became a member of Schools to Watch in 2003 and has been recognizing schools ever since.  Statewide, three schools were recognized in 2023 and the application window opens each fall for interested schools.  The Colorado Association of Middle Level Educators (CAMLE) works with middle-level schools across eleven regions of schools to excel and propel teaching, learning, and growth!.

    Be on the lookout for next month’s article, which will feature the benefits of being a School to Watch and a member of CAMLE and AMLE.  To learn more about The National Forum, visit their website:  To learn more about CAMLE and the work happening in our state, visit their website:

    Ryan Masciotra is a principal at Corwin International Magnet School in Pueblo, CO - which has been a Colorado School to Watch since 2013 (2013, 2019, 2023).  CIMS is a grades 4-8 International Baccalaureate World School and was established in 2008.

  • 29 May 2023 8:18 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Joe Simo, Principal 

    Deep in southwestern Colorado, at the base of the San Juan Mountains, in the midst of the Uncompahgre Valley and beside a river of the same name, lies a school that reaches close to 600 students each year.  Centennial Middle School hosts students from families who for generations have farmed the valley floor, students from families who temporarily migrate through to help in the harvest, students who work with their families in the restaurants and stores that make our little community run, and students for whom our school is the single safest space they know. Within our 6th-8th grade halls we have students reading at a near collegiate level and students learning English for the first time. Students studying advanced Algebra and students filling gaps from their earliest math instruction. We have students that are hungry and students who are well fed, some securely housed and some without homes, students right on track and others trying to find their track. It is this diversity of learners, and the clear urgency to adapt and grow to meet their needs, that brought Centennial’s mission into focus.

    To that end, when Principal Joe Simo took over at the start of the 2014 school year, he pulled his entire staff together, and as a team, they curated a shared school vision that resulted in a powerful mission statement that governs our school from the inside out. The mission statement reads: Within a challenging and joyful learning environment, where relationships come first, Centennial Middle School will leverage quality teaching, character education, and a rigorous curriculum to inspire a lifetime of learning. With these guideposts for decision-making, Centennial has grown into a school that centers whole-child instruction and whole-person wellness, for both students and staff. It’s a school that encourages innovation in the form of student choice, unique technology options, and a one-of-a-kind robotics program, a popular highlight in what is the the longest list of electives of any middle school in the valley. Centennial created a robust MTSS program that stretches from academic needs to behavioral supports and dedicates regular meeting times for evaluation and adjustments in reaching each child. We are a school whose staff collaboratively curated a rigorous curriculum in each subject area, with scaffolded instructional options, a variety of differentiated learning opportunities, and purposeful plans that are built from data-based decision making and educator expertise. 

    The result? Centennial Middle School was ranked as a Performance School in 2015-2016, 2017-2018, 2018-2019, 2020-2022, and 2022-2023. They’ve contributed to the Colorado Department of Education’s Promising Practice Video Series sharing their teaching best practices statewide, and as of this writing, celebrated seven teachers in every core content area that were chosen as the Montrose County School District Teacher of the Year from 2012 to present day.  Last but not least, of course, Centennial Middle School has earned the designation of Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch from 2017 through 2026. 

     Intrinsic awards abound as well. Centennial is a school that students and staff want to come to, want to work for, and are able to grow in.  Which is really what everything boils down to: universal growth. We genuinely believe that every child can grow while they are with us. Be it academically, emotionally, athletically, in their curiosity, talents and dreams, in their sense of self-worth. Centennial is a place where teachers and staff are valued, students are centered, and where, as a community, we end each school year more than we were before because we finish each school year having learned something new, together.

  • 30 Apr 2023 8:20 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Mark Spencer, Principal 

    Westview opened its doors to students in 1991 designed from the ground up to meet the unique needs of young adolescent learners. This was evident not only in the design of the building but in the design of our instructional model and middle school programming as well. These design decisions have been instrumental in Westview becoming a unique place for middle schoolers where we say “Expect the Best.'' 

    Each grade level, or “wing”, was built with groups of four core classrooms with walls that open. This allows for one, two, three, or all four classes to become one larger classroom. Much of the time, the walls are closed, and our school seems like any other. At other times our teachers open the walls to engage students in working collaboratively in interdisciplinary learning. They also open the walls to engage in team teaching. This structure allows teams to engage in menu days, gallery walks, and larger theme projects. The physical layout of our building facilitates innovative teaching and learning. 

    In addition to the academic benefits of our physical structure, the ability to open the walls facilitates our weekly homeroom advisory known as Team Time. Teachers have the walls open for team building activities, team communication, and team grounding activities. Teachers use this during the first semester of sixth grade to work as a larger group to build team expectations and procedural models. The ability to create a community sized learning space facilitates the success of our teaming structure. 

    Westview was also founded with a unique instructional model called Student Teacher Progression. In this model a core team composed of a math, science, language arts, and social studies teacher loops with the same group of students for three years. Students become part of a smaller learning communities. Each team develops team norms and expectations and engages students in the process of creating a unique learning environment. Students come to understand their role as part of these learning communities and build relationsships with their peers and core team of teachers. Teachers come to know their students as learners and as individuals. As they learn their students' interests and passions they are better able to make learning relevant and meaningful. In terms of curriculum and standards mastery, teachers begin each school year with a deep understanding of what has and has not been mastered by their students. They have three years to unpack standards and create additional opportunities to learn. The Student Teacher Progression model also builds relationships with parents and families. This strengthens the sense of teamwork between the school and families in working together to ensure the success of children. 

    Beyond core teaming and STP,  we have built programs and traditions designed to build and maintain relationships. Unique to Westview is an experience called “Challenge Day.”  Once a week, each grade level meets in the gym to compete in fun and engaging challenges. Some of the favorites include the Kentucky Derby, Frogger, and Hula Hoop Challenge. In the Hula Hoop Challenge, for example, students throw hula hoops in an attempt to ge the most hoops over the standards in the allotted time. During Challenge Day the din of excitement is heard up and down the halls. Another tradition at Westview is our intramural program. We traditionally have more than 150 students engaged each season volleyball, basketball, and track. The first layer of the program is our in-house intramural league. Eighth grade students serve as team captains and guide the younger players. This all culminates in a single elimination tournament with the championship game being played in front of the student body and live streamed to our community. Our 8th graders also compete in our varsity, or travel teams. These teams compete against neighboring middle schools, and there are no cuts. Students simply need to commit to participating, and they are on the team. Our intramural program engages our entire community. Parents, students, and staff all work together to deepen connections. 

    Over the years Westview has developed a tradition of success in many areas. Our students have demonstrated consistently high levels of academic achievement. We have always been accredited at the highest level, and we are consistently a school that demonstrates high growth in scores. For many years, we have welcomed the greatest number and percentage of open enrolled students of any middle school in our district. We enjoy very low staff turnover, and the majority of our staff have been at Westview for many years. In addition, we are the only school in the area that has been recognized as both an Apple Distinguished School and as a Colorado School to Watch. As a STEM middle school, we offer numerous STEM co-curricular activities including the top robotics program in the state. 

    We believe that our success derives from our focus on relationships. We all know that middle school is a time of tremendous growth and change. I think we all have also seen these things become even more evident since the pandemic. At Westview we intend to continue to deliberately build and leverage the power of relationships to meet the needs our students and make sure they are prepared for success in high school and beyond. 

  • 30 Apr 2023 7:54 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Christy Clark-Weese M.A. Ed.

    The importance of play in children’s social, emotional, and mental health development is critical to a child’s overall wellness. It is without question that children’s play habits were affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most schools coming out of the pandemic years, we began looking at various ways in which to create community. My co-teacher and I were approached to think about creative ways to incorporate team-building games and activities into the week for all students during their advisory time. Gameplay as Smith and Waller wrote, “can foster joy, connections, and relationships where animosity, anger, and divisiveness exists. It can change everything in just a minute” (2020, p.102). And so our hunt began.

    After visiting other middle schools and spending several hours researching, my team teacher and I began to develop first an idea and then a program for the 22-23 school year we call Challenge Days. Challenge Days aim to provide all students once a week, during their advisory class time, a chance to engage in highly interactive and energetic activities/games. The overarching idea of our challenge days is that the games/activities should bring students together for inclusion and acceptance - a critical piece of building and creating community.

    The activities and or games that we choose must be able to be played by up to two hundred fifty students at a time, be completed in the 20 minutes of designated advisory time, not be about a student’s athletic ability, and be simple enough to play immediately after watching my co-teacher and I demonstrate the game. The following are some of the games that we have played: Kentucky Derby, Almost Impossible Ring Toss, Badminton Tic Tac Toe, Long Shot, Short Shot, LeapFrog, Grab it, Rock Paper Scissors Hula Hoop, Kickball Tournament, and many more.

    Every week we try to strike a  balance between novel and routine for Challenge Days. Students know what day of the week they report to the gym, understand where they are to play in the gym and know the rules of gameplay and expected team behavior. Yet, we are also asking students to often step outside of their comfort zone to participate in a new game/activity. We ask teachers to lead by example, modeling enthusiasm and sportsmanship. We sometimes include teachers in gameplay and rely on them to help us create an environment where students can trust and feel they belong. Challenge Days by themselves do not fix or build community but they are a way for students to learn to play again, laugh, and celebrate being together. And that is a start.

    Smith, T., & Waller, J. (2020). Ridiculously amazing schools: Creating a culture where everyone thrives. Publish Your Purpose Press.

    Christy has been a teacher for almost twenty years and is currently a health and physical education teacher at Coal Ridge Middle School in St Vrain Valley Schools. 

  • 2 Apr 2023 5:57 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: W.D. Wolfe 

    My middle school has a cast of characters that could rival the uniqueness and hilarity of The Office. From the office staff trying to calm nervous parents, to the new 6th grade students in August who are wondering when recess fits into the schedule, to the youthful-looking teacher who keeps getting stopped in the corridor and asked to see her hall pass, Timberview Middle School could keep the viewers wanting more and laughing uncontrollably.

    What rarely gets noticed, however, are the heroes of the school that are hidden in the shadows; those folks who keep the wheels and springs of the institutional community quietly well-oiled. And yet, without them the pieces of the school puzzle would rub against each other with rough, weird edges.

    My classroom has two boys, J and J, who stack chairs and help clean up at the end of each school day. I never asked them to help, never even suggested it. They do it…day after day, like a two-person team in rhythm as they complete the task. Other students, clueless about anything outside the three-foot area around them, chit-chat and stand around waiting for that dismissal bell to sound, but J and J keep at it until completion.

    And then there’s our custodial crew. Most students don’t even think about the fact that the trash is taken out, toilet paper is available in the restroom, and scuff marks magically disappear overnight from their hallways. They assume that the iced-over sidewalks will be cleared by the hand of the Almighty and that the laptop computer they left in the gym will be taken care of until they get around to looking for it again. They clean up after our adolescent residents. I think there should be a day when our school custodians get to sit down and be waited upon by the students. On the other hand, since they are part of the hidden heroes, they would probably feel very uncomfortable having a studentserve them a plate of nachos.

    Our school nurse gives out more bags of ice each day than the local party store on New Year’s Eve. She distributes band-aids in bulk and listens to the aches and pains of countless students. Just as it was when I was in middle school a few decades ago, it seems that math tests can bring on indigestion and headaches. The nurse is the school medical mom who makes the boo-boos feel better and tends to the student who tripped over her shoelaces going down the stairs, requiring a precautionary wheelchair. The nurse tends to the needs of ten times as many students each day than my physician, and takes care of students, as if they were her own flesh-and-blood. The school nurse is the hidden health hero of academia. 

    And don’t forget about the thankless job that our crossing guards have. Stopping distracted drivers who enter the school zone, she goes about her daily mission of keeping the young ones safe from the unexpected. Future doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers owe their careers to the stop sign she has hoisted overhead and her careful eyes that were and are able to spot potential tragedies before they occur.

    And how about the paraprofessionals who seek to help our students with special needs experience joy and learning each day at school. They keep them safe as they navigate the crowded hallways, eat lunch alongside them, clean up after them whether it be an accident or an unfortunate moment of losing their grip on a full carton of chocolate milk. The paras are constantly on alert-status for medical crises and emotional meltdowns. Carelessness leads to catastrophes. They are the warm-hearted heroes of our school. 

    And finally, there are the substitute teachers. Have an influenza outbreak run through part of the teaching staff and see what happens when insufficient substitute teachers are unavailable. Truth be told, substitute teachers deal with an abundance of challenges. The teacher who is in the classroom daily knows the routines and procedures that work best for their students and how to handle the unexpected. Substitute teachers usually don’t know the history of the classrooms or the students. They received phone calls that morning, listened to the voice of the school person desperately looking for last-minute fill-ins, and agreed to help. If the answer had been to decline, the caller might have hung up and started to weep. Substitute teachers are the hidden, humble, and heroic last-minute lifesavers of the school.

    Every school has been blessed by heroes such as students, support staff, and people with servant's hearts. I’m not sure how any school can properly function without them. It is an honor to serve beside them every day.

    After 36 years of pastoring churches in Michigan and Colorado, Mr. Wolfe semi-retired and began to substitute teach at Timberview Middle School, where he has also coached basketball for over 20 years. 

  • 30 Mar 2023 9:41 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Lindsay Bohlinger

    The month of April is dedicated to school libraries and celebrating all the great things our libraries provide for students and schools. When did you last spend some quality time in your library to walk the shelves to see what they have to offer? Do you have a diverse collection? Fantasy, Non-fiction, Graphic Novels, Mystery, Thrillers? What about books for your multilingual students? 

    Over the course of several years we have seen a significant increase in multilingual students in our district. As the school librarian, I wanted to make sure that they had the same opportunity to read books in class with their peers or in their free time. There is something special about getting lost in another world when the world around us seems too chaotic. Every child deserves to see themselves in a book, or to connect to a character in a special way. Students that are multilingual deserve to find peace and comfort in a world with a language they understand. 

    This year I have spent a lot of time updating and curating new school library resources that meet the needs of our ever-changing student population. One of my big pushes was to beef up our Spanish book selection for students who are multilingual. I spent time looking at the statistics, gathering evidence, and asking teachers for input on what to include in this part of our library. 


    1 in 4 students is hispanic (Hispanic Research Center, 2022). There are an estimated 18.6 million Hispanic students and 3.8 million are native speakers who are not proficient in English (Hispanic Research Center, 2022). This number continues to grow and our schools aren’t always prepared to help these students succeed. Hispanic students are twice as likely to drop out of school compared to their caucasian peers. 


    Studies have shown that when students are able to read in their first language they have an easier time reading in a second language (Alford, 2021). This also allows them to become more proficient readers in a second language even if they are learning new letters and sounds because they understand the process of reading (Alford, 2021). Furthermore, according to the Association for Childhood Education, students that are exposed to reading in their first language develop stronger pre-literacy skills than if they are only exposed to books in their second language (Association for Childhood Education International, 2003).

    Teacher Input/Feedback

    I asked my language arts teachers in particular what books they would like in our library for our multilingual students throughout the fall semester in order to make sure I was going to get books that our students would enjoy and be able to use in class with their peers (class sets). I also asked for input from other content teachers and our multilingual teacher to see if they had any suggestions and to make sure I was including a variety of subject areas for students to choose and learn from. 

    I wanted to make sure that students had access to topics that would interest them so I made sure to include sports books, fantasy books, classics, picture books, and a few other non-fiction stories. These are the same topics I would include for other demographics too. The data in my school library shows that 60% of my checkouts come from these categories, so I know that these topics are popular for students of any language background. 

    My selection of Spanish books doubled in size this year after doing research on the need for these books so multilingual students could feel not only successful, but like they have a place in the library to enjoy and escape the chaos around them. The checkouts of these new spanish books has gone from 5 checkouts of the same three books from last year to 26 this year of our various new books. The time and effort put into understanding the needs of my multilingual students has truly paid off, and my hope is checkouts and new books will continue to grow in our library to meet the needs of my students over the next several years.

    Lindsay Bohinger is the learning coach and librarian at Severance Middle School in the Weld-RE 4 School District. She enjoys hiking, running, and hanging out with her family when her nose isn’t stuck in a book. 


    Alford, Jennifer H. “Enacting Critical Literacy with Adolescent English as an Additional Language Learners.” Critical Literacy with Adolescent English Language Learners, 2021, pp. 117–172.,

    Authors: et al. “Latino Children Represent over a Quarter of the Child Population Nationwide and Make up at Least 40 Percent in 5 Southwestern States.” Hispanic Research Center, 2 Aug. 2022,

    Breiseth, Lydia. “Why Reading to Your Kids in Your Home Language Will Help Them Become Better Readers.” Colorín Colorado, Colorín Colorado, 8 Mar. 2023,

    Gramlich, John. “Hispanic Dropout Rate Hits New Low, College Enrollment at New High.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 29 July 2020,

    Lam, Kristin, and Erin Richards. “More US Schools Teach in English and Spanish, but Not Enough to Help Latino Kids.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 24 May 2020,

Colorado Association of Middle Level Education


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