Clovis Christian School retooling curriculum

Liliana Castillo

Middle school students at Clovis Christian School will be learning Latin next year.

That’s just one small detail in a huge overhaul the school is implementing called the Middle School Academy under the leadership of Superintendent Ladona Clayton and Elementary Principal Linda D’Amour.

The two put their heads together and will be changing the way their students in fifth through eighth grades learn and progress through their education. Instead of moving forward by age or grade, students will move up only when they can prove mastery of a subject.

The overhaul includes integrating arts, world history and Biblical history, reading, writing and math across the curriculum. It also involves some tailor-made education.

“We are customizing the curriculum to the student instead of the student to the curriculum,” Clayton said. “If we have a seventh grade student who is ready for Algebra I, he’ll get it. If you’re ready for something, we’re delivering that to you.”

Clayton said doing so will continually challenge students.

Students will write, read, and create art in all classes, not just the ones named after the subjects.

Students will read in the classroom for assignments but will also be expected to take time for outside reading each year.

The classical approach of teaching grammar and phonics in early grades will be continued.

Latin will be taught to give students a greater understanding of every word they read or hear, Clayton said.

“Once you understand the Latin in everything we say, it opens up whole new understandings,” Clayton said.

The Middle School Academy, which will occupy a wing at the school’s east elementary campus on Humphrey Road, will include a project-based center.

“It will be a place for hands-on investigations, experimentation and the end product will prompt students to ask key questions. That will lead to a greater understanding of learning concepts,” Clayton said.

Every middle school student will start in one of two physical opportunities. One, called Agility Skills, is intended for students who want to be an athlete and will help prepare them for sports.

The second, called Fitness for Life, is intended to keep students active. The class will be the first part of the day, fully readying the student for learning.

The two educators began rewriting curriculum in the spring and presented the beginnings to the parents of the 47 students who will be affected. Clayton said the parents were as excited as she and D’Amour.

“We always evaluate best practices in the field. I have independently spent a lot of time researching what the best places that have the highest level of academic success do. We are literally picking the best of the best,” D’Amour said.

The change includes changing the way a student’s regular day at school looks. Instead of all eighth grade students going to English together, students will break into groups depending on their reading ability.

“This gives us an opportunity for intervention enrichment. It’s very individualized. It goes to that one-on-one or one-to-three, just small, ratio of attention,” Clayton said.

The system required the school to add a middle school teacher, and Clayton said the school won’t hesitate to add more wherever needed to make the system work.

D’Amour said allowing the students to move at their own pace, rather than with the class, is more efficient also.

“They don’t have to spend time learning what they already know how to do,” she said. “We can go on and begin learning new content.

One of the biggest changes, D’Amour said, is that in traditional education the textbook is the main resource for a class.

“We are going to be using many different resources,” she said. “And in doing so, the students will learn a higher skill of comparing and contrasting data. We know as adults, not everything is reported the same.”

The changes don’t stop there. Clayton is preparing her high school and elementary school staffs to adjust to this model.

“We will retool all of the curriculum going up and going down,” she said.

Clayton said they decided to start with middle school because the years between fifth and eighth grades are key years in a student’s education.

“These are the years to capture the heart of the learner. They’re going through puberty, they’re less engaged. It takes more to keep them engaged. We want to build their desire to learn for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Clayton said the system will create well-rounded graduates who are confident in the knowledge, skills and understanding they’ve gained.

“It’s a win-win no matter what we do,” D’Amour said. “The system is guided by ability level which gives you an incredible ability to progress education.”

Teachers will come in for a training in the new system in July, D’Amour said.