Dakota Hills Middle School
Dakota Hills Middle School in Eagan, Minn., serves students in grades 6 through 8. AFT President Randi Weingarten visited the school in 2010.
The Dakota Hills school year has trimesters instead of semesters, and teachers work on teams. Every student benefits from the individual attention of an adviser. More than 60 percent of teachers at the school hold at least a master’s degree. At Dakota Hills, it’s all about balance—ensuring that in-class lessons have real-world applications, emphasizing the importance of both academic achievement and career exploration, and providing individualized help along with whole-group instruction.
Technology is a focus at the school. Students have access to five computer labs and are expected to use the Internet for research. They have opportunities to explore video editing and further their word processing skills. The school offers an extended-day program until 4:50 p.m. for students who need additional help in their core academic courses. Other enrichment activities are occasionally offered during this time as well. The school has a Gifted & Talented Program and a Gifted & Talented Institute, where students spend a week of their summer participating in photography, engineering, technology, arts, mock trial and criminology courses. Dakota Hills also partners with the University of Minnesota to further hone the skills of high-achieving math students through Minnesota’s Talented Youth Math Program. For students with social and behavioral needs, the school has a Student Development Center where teachers align behavioral goals with students’ Individual Education Plans and track their weekly progress. Through a mix of programs, teachers at Dakota Hills pay close attention to students’ needs and ensure they receive a well-rounded education.
Ross Albertson, a science teacher, has taught at Dakota Hills for 12 years. “We’re a very experienced staff,” he says. “Teachers are here for their entire careers.” Albertson says that teachers and administrators have collaborated on a number of programs, including interventions for struggling students. For instance, the school has implemented a “pyramid of intervention” in which students who do not turn in assignments are assigned to a half-hour homework lunch where they finish incomplete work. If they’re still having trouble handing in assignments or understanding academic material, students are then assigned a mentor.
Dividing the school into smaller segments known as “houses” in which a group of educators teaches and advises 180 to 200 students enables faculty members and administrators to keep track of students who might otherwise fall through the cracks. It “makes kids a little more noticeable” and “gives them a chance to build relationships with teachers and other peers,” Albertson says.
Ultimately, a mix of programs at Dakota Hills allows teachers to pay close attention to students’ needs and ensure they receive a well-rounded education. But as Albertson likes to point out: “It doesn’t matter what plans you have at a school, the teachers are really important.”
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