School of Education Partners with Georgia School for Literacy Collaborative
Carson-Newman School of Education professors Kim Hawkins and Dr. Karen Milligan have established something of a lab setting with a middle school in Dalton, Georgia. The success of a fall trip has fostered plans for a two-day return in March.
Dalton Middle School serves a diverse student population of more than 1600 students under one roof. The C-N professors say Dalton Middle, the city school system’s lone institution for Grade 6-8, breaks the stereotype that the best education is delivered on a small scale.
Brian Suits, a1982 C-N graduate and founding principal of DMS, invited Milligan and Hawkins to bring their students to examine the school’s Literacy Collaborative program as well how to effectively manage a middle grades institution larger than many county high schools. to eighth-grade students features a level of diversity most C-N student teachers never encounter; Hispanic students make up 69 percent of the student body. The middle school produces high standardized test scores (competency test scores in all subjects are at 90% or better) and seems to model community spirit and good citizenship, according to the Carson-Newman guests.
“When Brian invited us to come, we jumped on the opportunity,” said Hawkins a reading specialist. “Brian attributes much of his school’s success to their buy-in of the Literacy Collaborative and we wanted our students to see it in action.”
According to the Literacy Collaborative’s website, the program is a “comprehensive school improvement project designed to improve the reading and writing achievement of students in pre-K through 8th grade.” According to Hawkins, students read some teacher-selected materials, but are afford the great latitude in reading books of their own choosing.
“The philosophy behind this framework requires a great deal of trust on the teacher’s part. They have to trust that students can and will take control on their learning. Of course the teachers are there to guide and gently nudge those students who need to be nudged,” said Hawkins.
C-N senior Caitie Beeler, one of 12 students on the fall trip, said one of the most significant things that she noticed about Dalton Middle was the level of respect that teachers afforded their students. The students, she noted, were treated like young adults and not children who had to worry about getting in trouble for chewing gum or eating in class.
“That’s where everything starts,” Beeler observed. “If you set high expectations for your students and hold them to those expectations they will do better in the content areas.”
Suits and his teachers told the C-N visitors that, under the LC framework, students are reading more. Their writing assignments focus on the books they read and, since they choose the books, the writing is more meaningful to the students and consistently better.
Kim Hawkins deemed the Dalton Middle School experience “amazing,” adding, “It reminded me of the old saying, ‘Kids are people too.’ The students are expected to behave and conduct themselves appropriately, and they just do. It's really quite unbelievable until you see it.”
Milligan said the initial visit was a “good learning experience” that has helped with planning the second foray to Dalton.
“It was good for those students and good for us in terms of advanced planning. We expect to take students from three classes and give them more time to observe and participate. This is not only an opportunity to see a large, diverse school that runs like a well-oiled machine while providing excellent student development on a personal level. The experience also gives our students to see another system in a different state. We think it’s a great way to expand one’s knowledge base,” she said.