SMS thrives with new campus updates, programs

Sweetwater Middle School gave a campus report during the SISD (Sweetwater Independent School District) Board of Trustees' meeting on Monday night, October 15, with a wide variety of change on the positive front being presented.The presentation was made by the school's administrators, principal Jeff Withrow and vice principal Danette Price. After a number of changes and obstacles last school year, SMS wanted to bring fun and excitement back to the campus. On the physical side, the front of the school now has a new flower garden, with flower boxes located on the Avenue C side of the school. The portable buildings on that side were also given a fresh look with new paint and a large banner promoting the district.New furniture was placed throughout the campus, with new benches at the front doors. In mid-September, picnic tables were also set up in the grassy area next to the cafeteria.Inside the cafeteria, motivational quotes were painted on the walls, and a new speaker system was installed. The seventh grade hall saw carpet replacement, while a character sign shows students the various traits that are to be displayed on campus. Student who demonstrate such characteristics will be honored.Another means of recognizing students is the principal's brag board. A weekly drawing is held at random and each Friday the principal will eat lunch with the student as a means to develop relationships between the principal and students.The school year kicked off at SMS with a flash mob by the teachers--an opportunity for some teachers to step out of their comfort zones in order to affect change on campus. While the flash mob was meant for the students, teachers seemed to enjoy the practices leading up to the first day of classes.Another way to bring joy back to the campus was by the installation of electives classes this year at SMS. Administration at the school wanted to prove to both teachers and students that education can also be fun. Teachers were asked to submit their ideas on what electives should be taught, as well as what classes they would like to teach. Students were then allowed to pick their top five choices, and a random drawing would take place to place students in classes.While a majority of classes will run only six weeks, some will go for a semester or the entire year with opportunities to compete and perform. A pass or fail grade is given for the class, and then those in the six-week programs will select a new elective to participate in.Students must be passing and demonstrate good behavior to be involved in the electives classes. If a student fails the first three weeks of any class, they will have to attend a tutorial class. Grade reevaulations will occur at the end of the six week grading period to determine placement back into an elective class, with passing students allowed to return.Various pictures from the electives classes were shown to the board, such as dance class, scrapbooking, chess club--which is also a UIL academic event, robotics--which works with the woodworking class, TMSCA (Texas Math and Science Coaches Association), broadcasting and cheerleading.Future elective classes being considered at this time--for as early as next semester--include drivers' ed, basic electrical training, landscaping and gardening, and sewing class.A video from the broadcasting class was also shown, which was a promotional video of the electives classes. Following the clip, sixth grade student and broadcasting class member Xavier Frith talked briefly with board members about the technology used and what will be learned in the duration of the class.Also at the meeting, board members were able to see greeting cards that were made by the Cool Computer Creations class, edible witches' hats from the Culinary Class, and picture frames and fall arrangements that were decorated by the "Bling it On" class.Withrow stated that they hope to find a way to incorporate all the elective classes to each other. Furthermore, the school has plans to hold an "elective extravaganza" later in the year that showcases all of the elective classes through booths and performances.Vice Principal Price then made another presentation in regards to discipline, distributing a report to board members. Significant reductions in behavior problems have been seen as a result of several combining factors: the electives classes, the iPad initiative and the Choice Academy--a program that teaches students about positive behavior. With the academy--a program with a three week minimum, a dramatic change has been seen in a number of students, many of whom are now excelling socially. Not only is correct behavior instilled in the students, but they also undergo counseling while in the academy.The iPads have made such an impact that even bus drivers have reported a positive change in atmosphere on their routes. And, with students allowed to use their iPads during the lunch hour, the noise level and behavior problems has considerably decreased. In addition, the new mobile devices are a hit with students, not only socially but academically. The free programs used on the iPad allow students to learn more about math, as well as early SAT/ACT prep and even some high school courses.Overall, the campus has seen a decrease in office referrals (the sixth grade has been cut in half over one year), with a dramatic drop in bus referrals. Bullying and fights have also greatly decreased.With the higher administrative presence in the classrooms and the variety of positive additions to the campus, good things are happening at Sweetwater Middle School with more positive things on the horizon.