Rockford’s middle school transformation includes exploration, authentic learning

Ben Wieland, a staff member from Deep Portage, explains canoeing to RMS sixth-grade students during their annual pilgrimage to the nature reserve. (Submitted photos)

Ben Wieland, a staff member from Deep Portage, explains canoeing to RMS sixth-grade students during their annual pilgrimage to the nature reserve. (Submitted photos)

Over the past three years, Rockford Middle School-Center for Environmental Studies (RMS-CES) has been transformed into a STEM magnet school, focusing on environmental and outdoor education.

The building incorporates STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – standards into all curricular areas, including reading, math, science, social studies, art, technology and physical education. This allows students to make connections across curricular areas as well as understand STEM concepts. Teachers at RMS-CES have attended STEM trainings, met with experts in the field, and have formed partnerships with organizations to create quality authentic learning opportunities to all students in the school as well as provide STEM-related field experiences.

Curriculum Integration Specialist Beth Russell said of the evolving curriculum: “Our school is especially proud of the partnerships we have built with STEM and environmental organizations. These groups have provided many opportunities for students in our middle school, from seeing an eagle up close and personal to testing a solar-powered vehicle.”

The school’s partners include Deep Portage Conservation Reserve, Three Rivers Park District, the Department of Natural Resources, General Electric, the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, the Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Ames-Florida-Stork House.

Mike Billington, an interpretive naturalist from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, teaches RMS-CES students about various raptors through the school year.

Mike Billington, an interpretive naturalist from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, teaches RMS-CES students about various raptors through the school year.

RMS-CES became a STEM magnet school after receiving a grant from the Northwest Suburban Integration School District, a collaborative between eight districts, each offering distinctive educational paths. Rockford Area Schools is unique in this collaboration, with two of its three schools as magnet schools (the elementary is an arts magnet school) offering an array of theme programs and activities for students. Rockford has many students who attend from other districts to take part in the magnet curriculum and partnerships offered in the schools.

Through the Integration District, the schools receive support, professional development and collaboration opportunities with other teachers. The Integration District leaders perform school evaluations every two years to give feedback on the magnet program and offer support in areas of need. This year, the district is hosting professional development for teachers based on inquiry, project-based learning and technology in the classroom. The district also offers time for magnet school leaders to collaborate and improve programs throughout the member districts.

Students and families who reside in one of the eight Integration District member school districts can apply to the lottery to attend Rockford magnet schools; the lottery, which closes Jan. 15, can be found on www.nws.k12.mn.us. Transportation is available, although individual district guidelines apply.

 

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