Bosque Blog: Middle School Prepares to Showcase Work to Larger Community

Leslie O’Hanlon, Interim Middle School Head
Summer break beckons on the horizon, and Bosque’s middle schoolers are antsy. I see their energy as they run in the halls (they shouldn’t be running). I see it during morning meetings as they whisper and giggle with their neighbors during presentations (they shouldn’t be talking). Like the hum of a swamp cooler in summer, this restlessness is the background noise of the Middle School right now. Despite all that, these students are still working hard in their classes, producing quality work.

For the past few weeks, students in each grade have been busily preparing to make all sorts of presentations about what they are learning to the larger community. This is good for students because having an audience that extends beyond the classroom makes their work more relevant and meaningful. Also, students usually enjoy steering their own learning.  

Recently, I visited several Middle School classes where students were focused like laser beams on preparing to show what they have learned to a larger audience. In the 6th grade social studies classrooms, kids were putting together art pieces as part of their inquiry project showcase. For several weeks, 6th graders worked in small groups choosing topics or problems that interested them. These problems included homelessness, school shootings, and animal cruelty, among other issues. Students researched the topic, wrote a paper about it, and then designed a piece of art to represent the issue. “They are tackling problems that we all want to solve,” said their teacher Sky Jenkins. “Our hope lies with these kids.”

The 6th grade Inquiry Project Showcase took place Thursday, April 25 at 11:30 am in the Middle School building. This project pulls from multiple subjects, including English, social studies, math, and Spanish. I watched as students Silas and Digness (Diggy) sat on the classroom floor mixing paint colors to get a shade of brown. They planned to use the paint to work on a sculpture and painting to raise awareness about violence against women. When I asked what they hoped people learned from their project, Diggy said, “We want them to see that violence against women is not okay. You shouldn’t do it.”

I also spent time in Jim Daly’s 7th grade science classroom as his students were compiling information for a poster they presented at the BEMP/Watershed Student Congress at Coronado State Monument on Wednesday, April 24. This annual event included Bosque School students as well as students from other schools who spent the year collecting data about water quality, ecology, and fisheries in the Rio Grande watershed. Before the event, I spoke with a student group whose research focused on whether changing temperatures affected stream flow in Las Huertas Creek in Placitas. While their data was inconclusive, the students in the group talked about how important they felt their research was in understanding the watershed. One 7th grader, Zohar, also said he appreciated being able to pick his research topic. “I like that we got to choose what to work on and the flexibility of what we got to research,” he said, glancing up from the report he was typing on his Chromebook. “There is a lot of variety in what we do.”

Mr. Daly underscored how presenting this data to a larger audience helps students see the connection between the work they do in class and its application to the real world.  “This work is not done in a vacuum,” he said. “I tell the students that this isn’t just a way to keep you busy. This data is really important from a scientific, community, and environmental point of view.”

Students are also gearing up for their 7th grade cross-curricular project, Agua Es Vida (Water Is Life). This project requires students to create and teach interactive lessons about water issues in the Southwest. Bosque students teach these lessons to visiting 4th and 5th graders from Alice King Community School. These lessons will take place in Sanchez Park on Tuesday, May 14 starting at 10 a.m.  Students get to choose what they teach, and they have to dive deeply into their topic, explained Tom Allen, 7th grade math teacher and grade level dean. “In order to teach something well, you really have to know it,” Mr. Allen said.

In Katie Peterson’s 8th grade English class one afternoon, I watched students experimenting with different forms of poetry they could use to write their own poems that they will read at the upcoming Writer’s Cafe. During this annual event, students read two poems while standing under a spotlight in the darkened Black Box Theater. The theater is dotted with small tables covered with tablecloths and vases with flowers, giving off a “jazz cafe” vibe. Writer’s Cafe takes place on Thursday & Friday, May 2 & 3, at 6:30 pm. “With literally unlimited topics to choose from, students have the opportunity to zoom in on both abstract and concrete ideas that are authentically meaningful to them,” Ms. Peterson explained. “They get to express their ideas and voices in authentic ways.”  

Teagan, an 8th grader, said she was nervous about the prospect of reading her poetry out loud to an audience; but doing so will help her become a more confident public speaker.  Right now, she’s not sure what she will write about but thinks it might be about San Diego, a place special to her family. “I have been going there for a long time with my cousins,” she said.

Fellow student Ezra chimed in to say that he too will probably read a poem he wrote about a special place: Telluride, Colorado. His family visits there every winter, and he’s looking forward to sharing his poem during Writer’s Cafe. “It should be fun. My parents will be there, and it’s cool that it will be in the Black Box,” he said.

Another place where Bosque students will show what they have learned is at the BEMP Student Congress this Friday. Bosque 6th grade students, along with other students in the BEMP program, will present research on what they learned by studying the Rio Grande bosque this year. When I popped into 6th grade science teacher Sarah Hooper’s room, students sat at tables typing a report that will be displayed on their research poster. “The work they are doing in BEMP is similar to the work that real scientists do, “ Ms. Hooper said.  “In science, we believe that it’s not enough to do science. You have to be able to communicate it.”

Other 6th graders—Tatum, Ada, Max, and Steven—were all working on a poster about small mammal trapping, which is when students trap mice and rats that live in the bosque. “The health of these critters provides clues about the health of the bosque,” Ada explained. All of the students in this group said they enjoyed working together on their research poster, and after a year of going out and collecting data in the bosque, they feel like bosque experts. Steven added that he is excited about the prospect of other students seeing his poster. “Other schools get to see our work,” he said.” It will be cool to see what other kids think of our work.”

So, yes, even though our students seem to be bouncing off the walls at times, they are still amazingly focused when they need to be, getting very important work done and showcasing their work to the larger community. And that is something to be very excited about!