Joseph City schools gear up for a great year

By Linda Kor

The staff of Joseph City Unified School District is ready for the new school year with an expansion and addition of programs, as well as new approaches to teaching.

Superintendent Bryan Fields noted that this will be the second year of the FFA/Agriculture program at the high school.  “This year we are in the planning process of starting a school garden that could benefit students and the community. We are also looking to see if a possible partnership with Northland Pioneer College (NPC) might be an option for our students,” said Fields.

The district is also expanding technology in an effort to expose students to a broad spectrum of what they will see after high school.  “At the high school we have adopted a new program called Accelerated Learning Pathways, and are focusing more on programming and coding,” said Fields. The program can be taken for four semesters, and allows students to learn software design and programming that prepares them for the highest paying tech jobs available without a college degree.

Fields explained that by going through this program, students can earn industry certifications that will help them obtain employment after high school.

“At the elementary level, we are renewing our focus on writing, keyboarding and technology, as well.  Writing is an area in general in which we feel our students can make significant improvements with,” said Fields.

This focus will also be part of the school’s reading emphasis.  “The two areas are an extension of each other and as students improve in one of these areas, the other area usually improves as well,” he said.

There is also a new keyboarding program at the elementary school. “Keyboarding is not a new skill, but we feel that if we can improve students’ keyboarding technique and skills using technology when they are younger, it can help them with writing and in becoming more efficient with areas such as science and social studies where they are implementing technology,” said Fields. “Teachers are looking to implement beginning lessons in coding, programming and electrical controls at their respective grade levels as well.”

After school tutoring at the elementary school is also being planned as the school has seen struggling and average readers make significant gains when they participate in the after school program.

Another area of emphasis at the junior high and high school will be mathematics.  “The head of our math department attended a summer conference that provided training on engaging students with hands-on activities and creating relevance with math lessons.  These strategies will be shared with all of our math teachers,” the superintendent explained.

Specific areas in secondary math that the schools will be focusing on include solving and creating story problems in a real-world context, becoming more accurate and thorough in applying steps and formulas to solve math problems, and applying problem solving math strategies in real-world situations.

“We are also excited about continuing with the concurrent enrollment satellite classes in math, Spanish and U.S. Government.  This year we are able to add Economics and American History to the offerings as well,” said Fields.

These satellite courses allow students to get high school and college credit from NPC. “This is a great way for students to get a jump start on obtaining some college credits in high school, while saving money at the same time,” he said.

This program is funded through a special grant that NPC received to partner with area schools, and Fields says it has been a good program for the small high school.

An alternative breakfast program, Breakfast in the Classroom, has also been introduced.  “We will be serving all students breakfast in the classroom everyday at no charge to them,” said Fields. “We were awarded a grant from the Arizona Dairy Council and Fuel Up to Play 60 program that will cover costs of the equipment such as the coolers and carts that the food will be transported in to the classrooms.”

This program is being conducted on a trial basis, and district officials will be evaluating it and asking for feedback from students, parents and staff before deciding if it will continue during the second semester of the school year.

“We hope to see the benefits that are associated with all students having a healthy breakfast,” said Fields.  Students do not have to eat a breakfast if they choose not to.  The students will take a breakfast meal as they enter the room and start eating as the teachers take roll and make preparations for the first lesson of the day.

For the secondary level, the district is emphasizing the coordination of informational and non-fiction historical texts.  Fields said that the social studies classes will coordinate reading materials with the English Department when possible to facilitate a more in-depth study of certain texts.  “For example, our English class may be studying the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, or Washington’s Farewell Address as a literary work at the same time or close to the same time that our history classes are studying these texts in the context of what they meant to the history and development of our country,” he explained.

The district has added two new employees this school year.  John Patterson is teaching welding, autos and agriculture at the high school, and Jeri Edwards is a new part-time math teacher at the junior high.