District continues JUMP discussion

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As discussion surrounding Socorro Consolidated Schools’ new multi-age program continues, the superintendent expanded on benefits and obstacles that the district foresees during a meeting Monday at Parkview.

The Joint (K-2) Ungraded Multi-age Primary, sensibly coined JUMP, consolidates kindergarten through second-grade students into a single class where they will remain with the same teacher until old enough to enter third grade. The program is based around themes rather than grade-specific curriculum, and allows students to learn at their own pace.

District Superintendent Randall Earwood cited research stating that, often, children at different ages will play different roles within the classroom. The youngest will be able to stretch academically as they work with their older peers; the “middle” students will be in a comfortable in-between area where they don’t feel “pressure” and a large amount of growth occurs; and the second graders tend to become leaders in the classroom.

“They turn around and are able to teach concepts to the younger kids, which reinforces the concepts (they’ve learned),” he said.

By the time JUMP students reach the third grade, Earwood said, “they are ready.”

One lingering concern is that although the school district in Las Cruces — where Earwood first learned about JUMP at a school board conference — has seen success in the program, its implementation there may differ from how it’s done in Socorro. Namely, in Las Cruces, as well as in many districts around the nation where much of the research for the program is coming from, only the lowest-performing 10 percent of students are placed into JUMP; however, at a school as small as Midway Elementary, the program would include not a portion, but all kindergartners through second-graders.

And at Parkview, things may be different as well.

“I don’t know if we have enough kids at the bottom 10 percent. We’re looking into expanding it and allowing a variety of kids into the program,” Earwood said.

He said that while the lower 10 percent really benefit from JUMP, research has also shown a need for model students in the classrooms as well.

However, because development of the program is in a premature stage, Earwood said the district has not come to final decision as to the make up of students in the program.

“We haven’t talked about what criteria there are for kids to be in the program. We’re just now presenting this as an option to see if parents and teachers are interested in it,” he said.

Parkview first-grade teacher Diana Hooper said some teachers and staff are skeptical.

“I think people are worried about having a division within a school,” she said.

Earwood said there have been a lot of “what ifs” from teachers.

Hooper expounded on some of these what ifs, and said that even questions about minor obstacles regarding report cards and parent notices need to be resolved in order for JUMP to be successful.

“I think overall, it wasn’t handled in the best possible way in the initial phases to where everybody could be on board and be a team,” she said. “I think that hurt a lot of feelings and that’s what a lot of this has come down to — feelings.”

In the weeks following the school board conference in Las Cruces, Earwood wrote a K-3 Plus grant to include the proposed multi-age JUMP program.

The K-3 Plus program gives parents of kindergartners through third-graders the option of signing up their children for an extra five weeks of classes before the regular school year begins; under Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, statewide funding for K-3 Plus has seen vast increases throughout the past few years.

For JUMP, the grant approval would equate to additional resources, including new technology and materials, that the program will require in order to be successful, Earwood said.

If the grant is denied or the schools aren’t able to generate enough interest, the JUMP program will likely still be put into effect, but “on a smaller scale because of cost.”

Despite some of the mixed feedback the district has been receiving, Earwood is pursuing avenues to make sure that, if the program is put into place, the schools will be ready.

One such avenue is a partnership with the Las Cruces school district.

“They’ve been doing this for a year a half. They require the teachers in the program to meet once a week. (We are) discussing possibly meeting on a monthly basis with their teachers to discuss what is working, what isn’t working and what obstacles we need to be aware of. Just having that conversation,” Earwood said.

The district is also looking to get support from a representative who overseas a multi-age educational program at Northern Arizona University.

“She is willing to come to our district to conduct intensive professional development during the summer and consult with us throughout the school year as we get this program going,” Earwood said.

Although the district plans to have the program ready to go in July, in hopes of being approved for the K-3 Plus grant, the superintendent said there will be flexibility within the program to adjust accordingly as it moves along.

He said that if everything goes as planned, they’ll be doing a kindergarten screening at the beginning of the upcoming fall semester.

“We’ll get a good idea of the different levels (of learning) we are dealing with,” he said.

Throughout the following months, there will be regular planning sessions as well as additional meetings at Midway and Parkview.