Excellence in education for all students is a reality at Fort Couch Middle School. At the core of our goal for student achievement is a concern for the individual's growth on an intellectual, emotional, social and physical level. This concern for each student's development is addressed by a structure centered on a skill and content curricular approach. This structure includes interdisciplinary academic teams that are supported by inclusion and gifted programs, an expressive arts team, a foreign language department, extracurricular activities, a guidance program, a library media and computer center, a physical education curriculum, and a teacher-student biweekly advisor time. The curriculum at Fort Couch serves the expected broad goals for student learning and development through a skill and content centered approach to education.
Both the academic and expressive arts teams, in addition to the world language department, address each student's intellectual, emotional, social, and physical growth on a daily basis. A continuous progress philosophy enables teachers to accommodate students' academic needs at their next logical level of understanding. The language arts curriculum includes two levels of instruction: advanced and regular. This provides opportunity for a spiraled curriculum where students can benefit from remediation or enrichment, based upon individual need. In addition, personal and intellectual growth occurs through the exchange of individual, critical reactions to thematic literary selections. The teachers in the mathematics department continuously evaluate student progress in order to plan appropriate instructional lessons. The organization of the mathematics program with its pre-test/post-test format allows for enrichment within individual units of instruction or for acceleration by placement in the next grade level's curriculum (i.e., a seventh level student may join an eighth level class; an eighth level student may receive instruction in the ninth level mathematics). Thematically, social studies includes content such as westward expansion, prejudice and discrimination, economics, and government and politics; among the topics science incorporates are astronomy, oceanography, geology and chemistry. Expressive arts allow students to select electives according to personal interests. Electives in expressive arts include cabinetry, theater, rhythmic movement, architecture, and healthy cooking. Part of our district's mission statement reflects the desire to develop "learned and responsible citizens for a global society." To this end, French, German and Spanish are offered to every middle school student. Their curriculum focuses on skill in speaking the language and studying cultural practices. In this way students learn not only the languages, but also the thought patterns of people of other cultures.
The social studies program fosters an appreciation for democratic values and for responsible citizens who make rational and informed decisions. Specifically, the "Prejudice and Discrimination" unit serves the goals of character development and ethical judgment in preparation for life in a culturally diverse society. The economics unit prepares students to become educated consumers by practicing critical thinking skills. The theme of government and politics fosters an appreciation for democratic values as students study the principles of the Constitution and the branches of the federal government. During a presidential election year, the social studies department conducts a voter registration drive designed to promote awareness and participation. Students have the opportunity to contribute to the practice of democracy as they shape the guidelines for the Ft. Couch Student Council. Cooperative learning emphasizes use of individual strengths and is practiced in classrooms throughout the school. Teachers encourage critical thinking to stretch students beyond memorization, because good problem solvers are needed in the world of work. The library media and computer center provides resources and activities designed to promote lifelong learning. Skill instruction in seeking, retrieving, and processing information will enable students to transfer knowledge of new and emerging technologies to the workplace. Experiences where students work as part of small and large groups underscore our commitment to democratic values.
In Upper St. Clair, curriculum development is action-oriented where the individuals who are responsible for implementing the curriculum also have ownership in the development process. A suggestion to change or further the curriculum may come from a staff member, parent, student or community member.
There is a curriculum leader for each major academic subject area at the elementary, middle and high school level. Department chairmen at the three levels guide other subject areas. Curriculum leaders and department chairmen are full-time, middle school teachers who receive additional compensation and administrative status for curriculum development. Recommendations for change are studied and reviewed before a decision is made to present the recommendation to a preliminary panel composed of curriculum leaders and administrators in that grade grouping. The appropriate administrator supervises the first meeting. Once the idea is clarified or a pilot test done, the recommendation may be sent to a second panel chaired by the Superintendent and attended by all the curriculum leaders of every grade level and other administrative staff.
All recommendations approved by the final panel are reviewed by the school board. Suggestions requiring a change in board policy are formally reviewed by the school board. Once approved the recommendations are typed, bound and shared with each teacher before the next school year. During the summer months, district curriculum leaders and teachers work together to develop comprehensive guides and supplementary material. Teachers are compensated for their participation in school sponsored summer curriculum projects.
Our principal, with the support of our curriculum leaders, assumes total responsibility and acts as the instructional leader in the implementation of curriculum recommendations. Besides regular staff meetings, the principal seeks to maximize the objective central to each recommendation by working with several teacher committees.
In addition, there are three other major provisions for collegial planning and curriculum implementation. Each Academic Team has 100 minutes of daily, common planning time to develop interdisciplinary activities and to address students' needs. A representative of the Enrichment Resource Team and a guidance counselor attend at least one of these meetings each week. The twice a month curriculum meetings serve not only as a vehicle to develop new curriculum but to implement and enhance existing curriculum.