Southwest school district introduces 5 new courses

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Students Braden Garcia and Chris Park work in the new IT course at Southwest practicing using a new coding tool. Contributed photo

Each campus looking into the needs of the students

The Southwest school district decided to add five new courses to the 2019-2020 school year.

The courses include: Phonics dance (pre-k to second grade), counseling class (5th grade), instructional technology class (grades 6-8), social media/journalism (grades 7-8) and advanced placement United States government (high school).

Tosha Tilford, Southwest superintendent, said the push to add these specific courses were simply brought on by the needs of students.

“Once they did their scheduling, the principals felt like those were some needs that we could go ahead and meet academically,” she said. “We didn’t have to hire anyone new to fill these courses. We revamped some courses that we had or had some spaces where we had enough teacher space to add, for instance, the AP class.”

Some of these decisions were based on how students had performed the previous year.

“Our procedure here is that if the principals see a need and it works into their schedule, then they present it to me,” she said. “I tell them either, yes, I think that is a good idea, or direct them another way. Then, it is taken to the board for approval.”

Tilford said even though Southwest is a small school, it is able to offer several courses to its students that may otherwise only be seen at larger districts.

“We try to make sure that we are diverse enough in what we offer that we can give our students everything that they need in a smaller enrollment school,” she said.

Of the five new courses, three will be offered in the middle school building.

Christy Hermansen, Southwest middle school principal, said the reason they decided to add the three new courses is that she wanted to offer the students more of a variety in their day.

“We hope that this allows them to explore some areas that may be of interest to them,” she said. “The counseling class came about because for the fifth-grade students, this is their first year in middle school. So, our middle school counselor is doing a course that will just help them assimilate to learning in a middle school setting.”

The class consists of talking to the students about their school, the community and help with some personal planning strategies.

“Middle school can be an overwhelming place, and this is a way for her to get to know each student as they come into the building,” Hermansen said. “That builds the relationship between counselor and student going from day one. She wants to be a place that they can come if they have questions about their schedule or anything else that may be going on at school.”

The high school does have a journalism class, and those students have been going to the new middle school social media and journalism class to help speak with the students.

“They can share what they have learned and show the middle school students how they can use those types of skills,” Hermansen said. “I have seen some of the middle school students getting out and taking photos at basketball games. They are really starting to cover their building which gives them an ownership over it.”

Hermansen said the social media part of that course is just as much about getting responsible information out there.

“They are learning what the public wants to know and learning how to make sure their information is accurate,” she said. “I think it is a great age to get them started in responsible journalism and responsible ways to look at social media.”

The new IT class is right now working on some coding and building websites.

“They want to eventually get to apps and even look into doing some coding for games,” she said. “What we are trying to do is pique the interest of students in the classroom who are very interested in the computer technology and that maybe even want to have a career in that some day, and they are doing a fantastic job.”

Hermansen said the students are really getting into it, and there have been some teachers come in and discuss with them the importance of the appearance of a website.

“That is the first impression that people in the community sometimes get, and there is a lot of responsibility to be learned there,” she said. “Students will tell you what they are interested in, and it is important to listen to what they are saying because it is our job to address that and make those opportunities available for them.”

At Southwest High School, AP United States Government was added to this year’s curriculum.

Eric Roller, Southwest high school principal, said the high school has expanded many of its advanced placement course offerings over the last couple of years.

“That has been with dual credit and AP classes, starting off of course with our core subject areas,” he said. In the social studies area, we have not taken that jump yet to go ahead and add some course work there.”

Roller said the district felt that students have done very well with AP course work, and that was an opportunity for some students to gain some advanced placement.

“We have several students in AP bio and language, and that was just a natural fit to go there next,” he said. “I think that any time you can increase the critical thinking skills and increase more problem solving areas for students to do, the better off they will be, whether they are going into college, a tech school or the workforce.”

Roller said those types of skills can be applied to most of the next steps in the students’ lives.

“I believe there are eight students in that course right now,” he said. “With a school our size, that is a pretty good number, and there may be more than that by now.”

Roller said that is a great starting point, and he only anticipates that number moving up from there.

“We are also doing some of these things in some of our other areas that aren’t core subjects,” he said. “For instance, it looks like we will have a dual credit agricultural class next semester through Missouri State.”

Roller said he and the district are looking into increasing opportunities for its students all the way around.

For the youngest Trojans, the elementary building added one class, a dance phonics class that is available for pre-kindergarten through second-grade students.

Jeff Payne, Southwest elementary principal, said the reason they went with this class is that staff has been talking for the last couple of years, and every teacher in the elementary has said as the students get older, they are lacking in phonics.

“We had done research with finding out what some other schools are doing,” he said. “We had heard that Pierce City was using something called phonics dance. We had no idea what that was, so at the beginning of the school year last year we went and actually observed the class.”

Between talking to teachers and administrators and looking in on a number of classes, Payne felt that this was a direction that the school should go in.

“We loved it,” he said. “We didn’t decided there at that moment because we had already started the school year, but we knew that we wanted to implement more phonics in for the children for the next year.”

The class is an easy way to incorporate phonics by using movement.

“We are trying to get the children one more way to help with their skills in phonics,” he said. “With the children getting up and moving, I feel that it really helps to harness that energy that they already have and expend that energy while they learn.”

The videos are played on the smart board in the classrooms, and the students do it every day.

“The children do the actions, the sounds and the phrases,” Payne said. “I have been seeing the students singing the songs almost like the ABC’s while they just walk down the hallway.”

It is a great way to help the students to remember what they are learning.

“The first part is about the letters,” Payne said. “Then, it incorporates rhyming, moment and words.”

The hope is that the teachers will start to see these skills start to spill over into writing.

“I was just in a class that was finishing a dance phonics course and they were doing ‘-sh’ sounds,” he said. “It goes in different levels, and there is always something new for the students.”

Payne said it was extremely helpful to get that first-hand experience from another school close by.

“We didn’t have to try something on a whim,” he said. “We were able to look at what else we could see from the other school that we would like to see in ours.”

Payne said the hope is not just for the preschool students to pick up on something that they a carry to future grades, but that those students that may be a little older can learn from it, as well, and become more confident as they move forward.

“We want it to catch some of our students that with what we were doing before weren’t able to understand at that time,” he said. “We are really hoping to see that the third-grade teacher next year will be able to see a positive difference in our students.”

Payne said the main point and the goal for any new program is to see the students be motivated, learning and moving forward, which by catching them singing in the hallways, and he believes they are making the right step with phonics dance.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: