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Forestview - A small school in a big building

Forestview Middle School is 339,000 square feet, the entire site area covers 180 acres of land, and we currently have 1,880 students in grades 5-8. At first glance, it could be said that the building looks “imposing.” Imposing? Yes. It’s a big building that covers a lot of ground and houses a large number of students and teachers. But what’s unique about the school that is contained in this big building?

As the principal of Forestview, community members have asked me (more than once), “Why do we need such a big school in our community?” To best answer that question, let’s take a closer look at how Forestview works. More importantly, I want to describe how Forestview’s structure and staff provide personalized instruction and support to our students in grades 5-8.

Forestview is physically organized by grade-level “wings.” Each grade-level wing is then organized by grade-level “teams.” Each team area has a commons area, a locker area, and classrooms surrounding the commons. In essence, Forestview personalizes the learning experiences for its 1,880 students by creating smaller “schools” within the school.

Here’s an example. A sixth-grade student is assigned to the 6A team. In the Forestview 6th grade, there are currently four teams. That student would have math, science, social studies, and language arts within the 6A team area with teachers specifically assigned to the 6A team. A typical student spends no more than two class periods (out of seven total) outside of his or her team area.

In addition to their core academic areas, Forestview students take physical education, music, art, multimedia, family and consumer science, technology and engineering, and health classes. The staff members in these curricular areas do an outstanding job connecting with kids and personalizing their education.

The average size of a grade-level team at Forestview is around 134 students. Let’s look at it another way. A typical Forestview student gets off the school bus, walks to his or her team area, and spends the majority of his or her day as one student in a “school within a school” team comprised of only 134 students.

This “school within a school” structure has many benefits for both students and staff. Forestview students benefit because they have a place in the school to call their “home.” They also have the opportunity to know their classmates and teachers on a deeper level. (This can be quite daunting for middle school students with almost 500 students per grade.)

Our staff members benefit because they can build positive relationships with the students in their team, understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and learn about each student’s individual interests. Research consistently shows that students who build close relationships with their teachers have a better chance for academic success. With our academic results exceeding State averages, we are confident that this structure is maximizing the strengths of our staff and students and validating this research.

If you walk through Forestview before school, you will see our teaching staff out in their respective team areas greeting and talking with kids, assisting them with work, and setting the tone for the leaning that will take place that day. Each team area really has its own “small school” feeling.

The overall structure of the Forestview building accomplishes two distinct yet complementary tasks. First, it keeps our community’s students in grades 5-8 in a learning environment that allows individual learners to forge close ties with their teachers and receive the level of instruction and support they need to excel. At the same time, as a bigger school, Forestview leverages tremendous academic, technological, and recreational resources not often available at smaller schools that can be used to enhance learning opportunities for all students in grades 5-8.

JON ANDERSON is principal at Forestview Middle School in Baxter.