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TCNJ partners with Trenton school to implement ‘best practices’ in the classroom

Many experts point to middle school as a key time in a student’s life, when they might form their love of learning a specific subject, or lose interest and even drop out.

In an effort to improve performance and help keep students engaged, Joyce Kilmer Middle School will rework how teachers instruct their students starting in September.

The school is working in partnership with The College of New Jersey’s school of education to create the “best practices” school.

Those best practices center around interdisciplinary teaching where teachers of different subjects work together so topics in each subject area build upon one another.

“If math is teaching measurement, science could be teaching graphs and the social studies person could be applying that to their content,” said Jeff Passe, the dean of the TCNJ school of education. “It is more efficient, more effective and what really is the key element of a successful modern middle school.”

The partnership between the two began in January 2014 when Passe approached Superintendent Francisco Duran about forming a closer relationship between TCNJ and a Trenton middle school as part of the college’s effort to build its middle school teaching program. Duran, who himself had just reconfigured the school district to separate out elementary, middle and high schools, pointed him in the direction of Kilmer and Principal Paula Bethea.

The two began to work together and held a three-day retreat for teachers, staff and stakeholders to come together and give their ideas of what kind of school they hope Kilmer can be.

“All of us have the same goal in mind: having a model middle school teacher to reach student achievement,” Bethea said.

Eileen Heddy, an education instructor at TCNJ who is working to help craft the program, said the program will be helpful for TCNJ student teachers to learn the best ways to engage and interact with middle school students, who have specific needs.

“It is a very different experience from teaching high school,” Heddy said. “It is interdisciplinary teaching and there are all types of adolescent development. They are just different students.”

“A lot of research shows that especially in an urban setting, in terms of dropout rates, the middle school years are a crucial time when kids really start to either connect or disconnect with school,” Heddy said.

Although there is no middle school certification for teachers in New Jersey, TCNJ is hoping to build a middle school teaching curriculum to help teachers who are interested in teaching only middle school gain experience.

“We want our middle school candidates to be able to go to a school that really does the kind of instructional techniques that we teach them,” Passe said.

TCNJ and the school faculty are still working on the interdisciplinary curriculum so teachers can begin implementing it in September. Passe said TCNJ is committed to continually working with the staff for the long term to ensure that they are doing everything they can to improve the outcomes and engagement for students at Kilmer.

“We want the teachers there to own it,” Passe said. “We are here for the long term.”

Moving forward Passe said he hopes to engage other departments from the college to come to Kilmer as well, such as art and music education students, counseling students, business development and nursing students.

Jenna Pizzi may be reached at Follow her on Twitter@JennaPizzi. Find The Times of Trenton on Facebook.