Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School
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Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School
Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School is a nurturing school, located on the brightly colored fifth floor of the CS 66 elementary school building. Like its sister school, Fannie Lou Hamer High School, Fannie Lou Middle is a haven of safety and thoughtful academics in an otherwise troubled district.
While students still take state exams, the school uses portfolios to judge students by the work they perform and assemble over the school year in the four major subjects. Teachers emphasize real world scenarios to improve analytical thinking, rather than rote memorization.
The school has built its reputation by working well with children who enter 6th grade with weak academic skills. Most students come into 6th grade on a 3rd- or 4th-grade academic level, says Principal Lorraine Chanon. The school assesses students three times a year and has success in moving them forward two grade levels per year with strong supports in place. Many classes have two teachers, all of whom receive training to implement the high level group work that has become a hallmark of the school. Despite the gains students make, however, test scores remain low.
In a 7th-grade English class, students during our visit completed a literary exercise using characters from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Students selected which character they wanted to study in depth and discuss. Then all of the students grouped according to character (all Charlie’s in one group) to share notes and discuss using their six-inch (or “quiet”) voices. Rather than grouping students by ability level, teachers group students by task, making sure that everyone is exposed to projects that they can do confidently and other projects that are more challenging.
After a two-minute transition of built-in talk-time (one of the many special interventions the school has implemented to increase focus), a 6th-grade class we observed took out their books, started their “Do Now” task and stayed on task. The social studies class was studying the structure of Ancient Egyptian society, and the teacher asked, “What was special about Ramses?” Engaged students raised their hands and one young lady noted that he was mentioned in both religion and history as a god.
By 8th-grade, students have timed Do Now assignments with a clock on the SMART Board counting down. On our visit, the teacher read an excerpt from the book Sold about human trafficking. Students had to select the part of the main character’s life in which they believe she was happiest—before, during or after sex slavery. Each group listened to the other’s point of view, written or oral under timed response. All of these exercises create a diverse portfolio of student knowledge. An 8th-grade teacher shared, “Students get to be creative [in response to lessons] instead of just feeding [teachers] answers. When I was a student, if I had a test on Monday, the information was gone by Thursday. These kids remember longer.”
In order to encourage higher learning, the 7th- and 8th-grade classrooms are named after universities that teachers attended, and the 6th-grade classes are named after high schools. The 6th- and 7th-graders transition by class in guided lines, but 8th-graders are free to transition to class independently and have lockers in preparation for high school. There are small libraries in every class, and the school has its own gym on the floor.
One student told us, “I like it here, it’s safe.” That impression is fueled by a supportive staff and a strong mediation process that empowers students to voice their emotions in a healthy way. When a student has a problem he can write it down, take it to an advisor and say he wants it mediated. It doesn’t matter how small or large the infraction; the adults are very responsive. Students who first came to the school expecting to resolve issues with their fists, quickly adapt to these tactics because they know both sides will be heard and the mediation is a “no blame” environment.
Special education: The school is very welcoming of special education students with nearly 24 percent receiving services. Nearly 18 percent of students are English language learners, and most classes are co-teaching classes. SETSS is also offered.
After school: Middle school students and high school students can partake in an array of activities including archery, cooking and fitness. Doors stay open until 6 pm.
Admissions: District 12 choice school. About 25 percent of new students come from CS 66.(Jacquie Wayans, February 2013)