From Wellington to Washington, WMS on map of excellence

Wellington Middle School Principal Alicia Durand will earn some frequent flier miles this summer receiving two national awards on behalf of the school in Washington, D.C.

The first, announced in March, is the “School to Watch” Award from the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. WMS is one of only 14 middle schools in Colorado and 279 nationwide to earn the designation.

To become a School to Watch, a school must have both high performance and high growth in the areas of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity and organizational support and processes. The designation is good for three years, during which time representatives from other schools can visit to learn what the school does right. WMS has already had observers from Wyoming and all along the Front Range asking about their programs.

Durand will attend the gala celebration for all the Schools to Watch on June 21. She will also take part in a panel discussion on what it takes to prepare all eighth-graders for success in algebra and geometry. As the director of the AVID – Advancement Via Individual Determination — program for Poudre School District, Durand holds the subject dear to her heart.

“AVID is for the academic middle,” she explained. “We have programs for the higher end – AP, IB, Gifted/Talented, Honors – and we have programs for special education and those who are at risk. The group that was not a priority was the middle.”

Durand said those in the academic middle are students who have the initiative to succeed in college but may believe that higher education is not a possibility. The program just received a $30,000 grant from the Fort Collins-based Bohemian Foundation to continue its work.

She reasoned that if studying advanced math in eighth grade was good for the 85 percent of students who were AVID, it should be good for everyone. So in 2008 WMS set the goal of every eighth grader studying algebra or geometry, and teachers started working with fifth graders in the feeders school to prepare them. This was the first year that goal was achieved.

Green Ribbon School
Durand will return to the nation’s capital a week later to pick up WMS’ Green Ribbon School award from the U.S. Department of Education. In this inaugural year, 78 schools in 29 states received the designation.

“We only had a few weeks to put the application together, and we thought we’d go through the process just to see where we could improve,” Durand said. “We never dreamed we’d be named a Green Ribbon school, since parts of the building are from the 1970s and we were competing against more affluent, built-green schools.”

Maybe it wasn’t that big a surprise. WMS has already achieved the Gold Level – the highest possible — in the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program, putting it in the company of such eco-friendly organizations as New Belgium Brewery and the City of Aspen. The Gold Level requirements closely resemble the three pillars of the Green Ribbon designation: environmental impact and energy efficiency; healthy school environment; environmental and sustainability education.

And how many schools have working wind turbine on the front lawn? A student-made poster tracks the amount of energy generated by WMS’ turbine then calculates the amount of fossil fuels saved and carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere.

This is where the two awards converge. WMS has developed STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – curriculum to prepare graduates to address sustainability and environmental issues in their communities.

This year, WMS has also won a national award for its yearbook, tested in the highest percentiles in all grades in all subjects on the TCAP, raised thousands of dollars for the Lost Boys of Sudan, and hosted a mini Relay for Life walkathon that raised $700 for the American Cancer Society despite moving indoors because of the Hewlett Fire.

For Durand, a Poudre High School graduate who has spent her entire teaching career in Wellington, all the accolades help generate a sense of pride in the school, but that’s not what’s important.

“What’s important is that we continue to grow,” she said. “The recognition will open doors to greater opportunities for the school to do great things.”

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