February 8, 2024
• Over the next three years, Pollard Middle School looks to tweak its program both inside and outside the classroom.
Principal Tamatha Bibbo, as well as Pollard teachers and students, shared aspects of their School Improvement Plan to the School Committee Tuesday night. Pollard is the first school in the district to present its annual plan, which aims to meet students’ long- and short-term needs.
As Pollard moves toward its goals, Bibbo highlighted three different ways they’re working to better the school community.
Pollard employs a cluster model, wherein teachers help ease the transition between elementary school and high school. In these smaller groups, students diverse in academic skill sets and identities come together to form interdisciplinary study teams. There are five clusters for each grade level at Pollard.
Ken Lundberg, a seventh grade English teacher who sits on the Pollard Middle School Council, spoke about his desire to make the clusters’ impromptu “family meetings” more frequent and multi-faceted. While the clusters help students find their identity, Lundberg said he felt students were missing out on a bigger perspective.
“At the same time, if we think about the idea of civics in our school, there’s also this notion that we’re [a] whole school,” Lundberg said, “and I think that that was becoming lost, and I think kids didn’t have a really good sense of what Pollard represents.”
During the monthly community meetings, teachers highlight various student accomplishments and birthdays, as well as dispense pertinent school-related information, Lundberg said. Students can also engage in teamwork activities and “learn how to be together in a big group,” he added.
The school also hosts restorative circles, a practice when students gather to spark a meaningful dialogue on community issues.
Bibbo, also the school council co-chair, said she also sees a positive benefit in dividing the school’s 900-student body into smaller groups. A survey found some Pollard students would prefer to host more community meetings, which Bibbo said signals their impact.
“So far, we’re hearing from students they enjoy that time together,” Bibbo said.
For middle schoolers who may need further support, Bibbo said school counselors host lunch groups for conflict resolution or other purposes when necessary.
Should more serious issues arise that require disciplinary measures, Bibbo said the school takes a different approach to reduce suspension rates. Instead of taking punitive action, the school instructs certain children to complete a self-paced learning module that helps them to not repeat the same behaviors in the future.
Based on two years of data, Bibbo considers the program a success.
“We’re keeping kids in school,” she said. “We do not want to send students out of school. We want to keep them in school, even when something has been harmful.”
STUDENT AGENCY AND VOICE
Book clubs were a thing of the past at Pollard, as the titles on classroom shelves lost kids’ interest, teacher Eileen Walsh said. But with the introduction of new novels, the practice was reborn.
A recent book club unit attracted new attention, prompting teachers to create a year-long program.
“We have our class novels, which is fabulous, and we were hoping that book clubs would give students a chance for more choice, more independence,” said Walsh, who also co-chairs the school council. “So whenever they’re not reading a class novel, they’re in book club.”
Four to five times each year, the club chooses a book from the classroom collection — which a Needham Education Foundation grant helped to fund — and spends the next three weeks reading and discussing the book at weekly meetings.
The concept and timeline, Walsh said, felt “freeing” for students, who typically spend weeks analyzing and dissecting novels in their English classes.
The club effectively increases student voice, improves their writing and reading stamina and allows them the platform to both select the titles and share their ideas, Walsh said. As she noted, “seventh graders love nothing more than critiquing professional writers.”
Initially a summer reading program, One Book, One School launched as an in-school initiative in January, with participants reading “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah. During one school day, students spent time in workshops related to the book, learning about the history of apartheid, bead making, found poetry and rugby in South Africa. Hundreds of students engaged with the book, Bibbo said.
Seventh grader and school council member Yalli Kaspi spoke highly of the program at the committee meeting. After moving to Needham from Israel in August 2021, he said he looks forward to his next year at Pollard and reading a new book in eighth grade.
“I liked how everybody was reading it, so if I didn’t understand something, I could just ask any teacher or a classmate,” Yalli said. “I liked having a whole day about the book, and I liked the workshops about it.”
School Committee member Matthew Spengler mentioned how his own son, who attends Pollard, participated in One School, One Book and inspired Spengler to read the book himself.
“I imagine there are many, many parents who’ve had an opportunity to connect with their eighth graders and students at Pollard around really important work of literature and history, so thank you,” Spengler said.
FAMILY AND CAREGIVER COMMUNICATION
For Pollard news, Bibbo said families can get information in three ways: parent/caregiver chats held twice a month, a weekly newsletter emailed every Friday and a student-run news broadcast featuring dozens of kids per episode.
“I think with these three different efforts, we’ve been able to hopefully capture family and community members and caregivers and give them the information and really do more outreach to them to ensure that they have what they need versus waiting and seeing,” Bibbo said.
Looking ahead, Bibbo said she hopes to adopt other goals, including implementing the Universal Design for Learning, further embedding Portrait Of Needham Graduate competencies and supporting interdisciplinary work.