Norwich — The city’s 1,000 middle school students arrived at school Friday, two days later than their elementary counterparts and ready to tackle new magnet themes they chose last spring.
Teachers at both the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School and the Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School used the two extra days for some last-minute professional development on their new curriculums and to get used to revamped classrooms equipped with everything from musical instruments and computers linked to piano keyboards to robotics materials and world languages software.
All sixth- through eighth-graders in Norwich got to choose between the two programs. Kelly, the larger school, started Friday with an enrollment of 667, and Teachers’ Memorial with 385 students.
“For a first day on a Friday, attendance is really good,” new Kelly Principal Sheri Tanner said.
Students at Kelly spent the morning classes arranged in “community circles” to learn names, be introduced to specific curriculum themes and to review the school’s other basic themes of respect, responsibility, safety and mindfulness.
Several students cited different reasons for choosing Kelly’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program last spring. For seventh-grader Wakeil Hendrickson, 11, the prospect of building robots in engineering class sparked his interest.
“It just seemed like something new to choose,” he said as he got ready to try the combination lock on his new locker.
“I chose Kelly because it has a lot of music, and I do a lot of art,” said seventh-grader Jae’Lynn Lowe, 12, who said she likes hip hop music and wants to sing in chorus.
Chorus already is a popular choice. Teacher Stefana Taylor had 33 sixth-graders in one class Friday morning, and has two other large sixth-grade classes.
Tanner called Kelly’s band “one of our prides,” and the new drama classroom is strategically located off stage left from the Jacqueline Owens Auditorium.
At Teachers’ Memorial, eighth-grader Leopoldine Bertrand, 13, was one of the first to sign up for the global studies magnet theme. Bertrand speaks Creole and English, is eager to learn Spanish and whatever other languages she can. And the plan to go to Washington, D.C., for the class trip was another perk.
“I really, really did want to study global languages,” she said. “The school was familiar to me, because I went to sixth grade here, and sixth grade went really well for me.”
All Teachers’ Memorial students will take Spanish throughout the year and will be introduced to other languages in rotation. Chinese teacher Tianyi Zhang will have students for 45-day rotations, and the school will have an after-school Asian Studies Club.
Norwich received federal grants totaling $4 million last fall to restructure the middle schools into the new magnet themes. For the past several years, Teachers’ Memorial housed all sixth-graders, while all seventh- and eighth-graders attended Kelly. The two schools returned to traditional sixth through eighth grades on Friday.
The grants paid for dozens of new computers, including the 26 iMac computers attached to mini piano keyboards along with traditional typing keypads in Kelly music technology teacher Kyle Gould’s classroom. Gould said students will compose music, create musical arrangements and record their creations in the recording studio next door. The music technology class was a choice class for Kelly students, who ranked their top three electives. About 80 percent of Kelly’s students will attend Gould’s class.
Teachers’ Memorial Principal Alexandria Lazzari said the three grades will apply the global studies to projects they will work on all year.
Sixth-graders will study environmental changes, with a spring unit on human migration. Seventh-graders will tackle the theme “Survive and Thrive,” studying resources needed to survive, starting with river civilizations and progressing into water supplies, dams and even human physical needs. And eighth-graders will expressing themselves by writing memoirs and studying historical perspectives.
During the planned trip to Washington, eighth-graders will have a project proposal to present to the Connecticut congressional delegation, Lazzari said.
“We don’t know yet what they’ll come up with,” Lazzari said.