A focus on building relationships with students and an emphasis on STEM principles have helped Mansfeld Magnet Middle School raise student test scores and earn the A+ School of Excellence Award from the Arizona Educational Foundation, said former principal Richard Sanchez.
The school also earned the Magnet Schools of America’s Certification of Excellence for the past two years, said Dr. Seth Aleshire, current principal of the Tucson school in a recent letter to students’ families posted on the school’s website.
“These incredible accomplishments speak to the innovation, determination, and commitment of the Mansfeld faculty and the leadership of Mr. Richard Sanchez, who is now a regional superintendent in Tucson Unified School District,” Aleshire said.
Tucson Unified School District video: Mansfeld Magnet Middle School STEM Nights
Another important part of students’ success are family members who make sure students study, help them with their homework, check on their grades and follow up with their teachers, Aleshire said.
“These state and national recognitions are an obvious source of pride to our staff and to the community that we serve, and it is my goal to keep this momentum going and build upon this already strong foundation,” Aleshire said.
AZEdNews Podcast by Brooke Razo/AZEdNews: Strong relationships, STEM focus make Mansfeld Magnet Middle School an A+ School
What an A+ School is
Mansfeld Magnet – Title I school that serves more than 1,000 sixth- through eighth-grade students in Tucson – was among the 41 Arizona public schools that earned the A+ School of Excellence Award this year, said Bobbie O’Boyle, executive director of Arizona Educational Foundation.
Schools that apply for the award are evaluated in the areas of student focus and support, school culture, active teaching and learning, curriculum, leadership, community and parent involvement and assessment data.
A+ Schools receive with $500, a banner designating them as an A+ School of Excellence™ winner, and partial scholarships for all staff and their family members at Argosy University Phoenix.
At Mansfeld Magnet, about 64 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, and like all A+ Schools this Tucson school exceeds expectations to meet students’ needs and help them achieve success, despite the many challenges that education faces statewide, O’Boyle said.
Building relationships is key
Faculty and staff at Mansfeld Magnet know that focusing on what’s best for students and building supportive, positive relationships are key to learning, said Sanchez, who is now Arroyo Chico region regional superintendent for Tucson Unified School District.
“The one thing that we really do pride ourselves on here at Mansfeld is the relationships that we build with students at the middle school level during that young adolescent transition phase of their life,” Sanchez said. “I truly believe (that) is second to none and that has been the foundation for us for everything that has happened academically.”
Teachers do that by getting to know the 20 students in their advisory period that meets four times a week, and advocating for their students, Sanchez said.
“Without the relationships, without getting to know students, without getting to know their story, none of this other stuff really happens, because in middle school, kids really work for the teachers and the people in their lives at home,” Sanchez said.
The advisory period developed from what was initially a time set aside for sustained silent reading, Sanchez said. Now in advisory, teachers talk with students about what they’re interested in, things that are happening in the community, state and nation, and milestones like their birthdays to really get to know their students, Sanchez said.
During this time teachers may share school announcements, do ice breakers, academic vocabulary work and provide reading opportunities, but they mainly focus on team building and project-based learning, Sanchez said.
For example, students in each advisory group take part in a STEM challenge each quarter, working creatively and collaboratively on a project like building a working car or boat from a set number of objects and competing against other advisory groups, Sanchez said.
Embedding STEM practices in all learning
When the school became a magnet five years ago, teachers and administrators developed 17 STEM practices they could use with students in each content area’s and elective’s curriculum and put posters with them all over the school.
Students can plan and carry out investigations in science classes, as well as engineering, social studies and math classes, and they can observe and ask questions in all classes including performing arts and physical education, Sanchez said.
That meant providing a lot of professional development for teachers on STEM practices and how to incorporate them into their curriculum and learning objectives with problem- and project-based activities, Sanchez said.
“We wanted to make sure we were not a magnet by name alone on the marquee, and that when students walked on this campus as a STEM school they really felt it in every classroom,” Sanchez said.
It’s also important that students see how these STEM practices are used in their everyday life outside the classroom, Sanchez said.
Students show strong academic growth
As a result of these practices, Mansfeld Magnet students have consistently scored above the district average on standardized tests and are showing greater growth than the State of Arizona as a whole.
Another method the school has used to help boost student’s English/ Language Arts skills, is that all teachers no matter their content area, help students with reading and academic vocabulary.
When letter grades were released, Mansfeld Magnet went from being a C school to a B school, because the data showed strong student growth, Sanchez said.
That letter grade combined with the STEM focus boosted enrollment by 15 percent to more than 1,000 students in the 2017-18 school year, Sanchez said.
“It was a huge jump. When we were honored with the A+ School of Excellence Award, the enrollment and the interest continued to peak,” Sanchez said, noting that the school was at full capacity for this school year and there were 400 students on the wait list.
“A+ School of Excellence and the STEM combined really help shine a bright light on the success that middle schools can have for students, and I really believe that that’s going to play out over the next few years for us,” Sanchez said.