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Spokane Valley

East Farms Diary: Seventh Grade

In tomorrow’s Valley Voice there will be a story about the seventh graders from East Farms as they spend a day in school.

For the next school year, I’ll be spending two days a month at East Farms STEM Magnet School, formerly East Farms Elementary School, in the East Valley School District.

We chose East Farms for a couple of reasons. The district is transitioning from a K-5 elementary school system to K-8 community schools. Middle-school students spend their mornings at their community schools and travel to East Valley Middle School, soon to be the Middle Level Learning Center, to have lunch and take their physical education and enrichment classes such as music and art. The second reason is East Farms’ move to become a STEAM magnet school this year. All students, with the exception of the kindergarten classes, will begin taking classes to enhance their appreciation for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

For my first outing to East Farms, I decided to spend the day with the 55 seventh graders. These students are the first to experience life as middle schoolers in a community school. Two years ago, they were fifth graders, expecting to attend Mountain View Middle School for their sixth grade year. The district decided that year to change the way it taught its middle school students, keeping them at their neighborhood elementary schools through the eighth grade and closing Mountain View permanently. East Valley Middle School will become the Middle Level Learning Center next year, where seventh and eighth graders participate in enrichment or exploratory classes. Next year, they will be the first eighth graders at East Farms.

While I discuss in the story some generalities of the day, I found myself very interested in the work the students were doing in the classrooms of East Farms, and with far more notes in my notebook to include in one story for the paper, I thought I would share some of that here on the blog.


In tomorrow’s Valley Voice there will be a story about the seventh graders from East Farms as they spend a day in school.

For the next school year, I’ll be spending two days a month at East Farms STEM Magnet School, formerly East Farms Elementary School, in the East Valley School District.

We chose East Farms for a couple of reasons. The district is transitioning from a K-5 elementary school system to K-8 community schools. Middle-school students spend their mornings at their community schools and travel to East Valley Middle School, soon to be the Middle Level Learning Center, to have lunch and take their physical education and enrichment classes such as music and art. The second reason is East Farms’ move to become a STEAM magnet school this year. All students, with the exception of the kindergarten classes, will begin taking classes to enhance their appreciation for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

For my first outing to East Farms, I decided to spend the day with the 55 seventh graders. These students are the first to experience life as middle schoolers in a community school. Two years ago, they were fifth graders, expecting to attend Mountain View Middle School for their sixth grade year. The district decided that year to change the way it taught its middle school students, keeping them at their neighborhood elementary schools through the eighth grade and closing Mountain View permanently. East Valley Middle School will become the Middle Level Learning Center next year, where seventh and eighth graders participate in enrichment or exploratory classes. Next year, they will be the first eighth graders at East Farms.

While I discuss in the story some generalities of the day, I found myself very interested in the work the students were doing in the classrooms of East Farms, and with far more notes in my notebook to include in one story for the paper, I thought I would share some of that here on the blog.

Their day starts earlier than the primary school students. They show up at 7:30 a.m. for some social time in the gym before heading to their first class at 7:55. There are two classes of students. One group spends the first half of their mornings in Chris Russell’s language arts and social studies class, while the other is in Angie Bordwell’s science and math class. After a 15-minute break at 10, the two classes switch rooms.

Both classes are in the school’s new portables which the district brought in over the summer to house the students. Before Russell took the students to the computer lab in the main building, he talked to them about being mature enough to walk the halls without having to line up like the younger students do. While the seventh graders are free to just walk to different places in the school, they know they have new responsibilities now they are older. Both Bordwell and Russell remind their students about acting with maturity, especially around the younger students.

The activities in Russell’s class helped to engage the students—they are gearing up to read, “The Outsiders,” S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel about friendship, rival gangs, violence, social classes and death.

“This is the best book written for teenagers, probably ever,” he told the class. But before they started reading the book that has been considered controversial in many places throughout the country, Russell started out with a discussion about how society has changed since 1967. The students were shocked to find out people smoked cigarettes whenever and wherever they wanted in the ‘60s. They were also stunned to find out that many kids their own age often smoked then, too.

They also discussed the role of violence in the ‘60s. He said back then, differences between teenage boys were often solved with a fistfight.

“It’s not like that anymore,” he said.

He asked them to describe what they thought of when they heard the word “gang.” They thought of guns and drugs and the Crips and the Bloods. Russell explained that a “gang” in the book is just the people you hang out with and can relate to.

He wrapped up the discussion at the end of class by asking them a few questions. When he asked them if they would ever join a gang, they said that if it was the kind of gang from back in the ‘60s, they thought they probably could. He asked them if they would ever run away from home with a friend. Not many of the students raised their hands. To Russell’s question of whether or not they would enjoy a sunset with a friend, most of the students raised their hands.

Only about four students raised their hands when Russell asked, “Would you ever do something someone wants you to do, even though you know it’s wrong?”

One of the students said, “It depends on what it is,” suggesting that if it was drugs, the answer would be no.

“These all pertain to the book in some way,” Russell told them.

In Bordwell’s class after the break, the students picked up copies of the Spokesman-Review. They took a look at the celestial events on page two and talked about what phase the moon was in now. While the students looked through the newspapers, Bordwell approached one group about fundraising ideas for a trip to Washington D.C.

“It’s a big trip we might do at the end of the year,” said Emily Orlowski, 12. They mentioned selling handmade jewelry at the high school football games or having a big garage sale.

The students then worked on math problems on a worksheet while Bordwell moved through the room, helping students with questions about it.

Bordwell then told the students about visiting NASA’s website to find out what the future in the space program is.

“Mars is a real big focus right now,” she told them. She explained about the Mars Rover Curiosity, and wondered if there were parts of the rover they could conceivably build in one of their classes.

The class wrapped up with a viewing of Channel 1, an online news program made for middle-school aged students.

“We need to see what’s going on in the world,” Bordwell told them.

By the time Bordwell and Russell put the students on the bus for East Valley Middle School, the students had a full morning of activities. It was on to lunch, physical education and music, art or drama.

During my next visit to East Farms, I am planning to attend some of the STEAM programming the school has lined up. Principal Tammy Fuller said their first day of STEAM classes will be Sept. 26.


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Welcome to the Spokane Valley blog. Here we cover news, events and information from the greater Spokane Valley area, including Millwood, Otis Orchards, Liberty Lake, Newman Lake, Rockford and Fairfield.

Stop by often to find stories, information on events received too late to print in the Valley Voice and breaking news.

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