How one middle school is making language a priority

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At Mountain Vista Community School in Colorado Springs, developing a skill for language is top priority.

 “So they’re speaking it, hearing it, saying it, writing it,” said Brian Keilman, an eighth grade math teacher. “Having them work in real-world type problems where they never really know that they’re using the skill.”

Keilman hopes teaching these students language skills now can go a long way. 

“That just helps them when it comes to perform on assessment, it helps them in real-life then they sound a little more articulate,” said Keilman.

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“Conversation is the key to every student’s success and learning,” said eighth grader Etelin Tapia, “skills like communication and learning from our mistakes is something that will get you somewhere in life.”

The school says their academic success comes from a push toward every classroom being a language-rich environment.  

“Regardless of background or how they came to us, it’s our job to help them grow,” Mountain Vista Community School Assistant Principal Mark Wackwitz said. “Every teacher in our building, every staff member, every adult uses strategies of no opting out when a teacher calls on you.”

“The teachers are really helpful and they really support your life in your goals to succeed,” said seventh grader Giovanni Fernandez. 

They’re building that personalized support that can result into a high-quality education for every student. 

“We use data and growth information to help us as teachers and staff members decide where we’re going to go next with that individual student,” Wackwitz said. 

“Once you build that relationship, then they will perform for you, they’re going to invest in what you’re doing on a daily basis,” Keilman said. 

Those key strategies are part of the reason why the school won The Succeeds Prize for Transformation Impact in middle school education.  

“They narrowed it down through a combination of looking at the different data factors,” said Patrick Donavan, Colorado Succeeds Board Chairman.

A first-of-its-kind award created in collaboration with Colorado Succeeds, 9News, mindSpark Learning and the last three Governors. Together they presented The Succeeds Prize to Colorado public schools and educators that showed innovation in education.  A total of $137,000 was awarded with the hope the winners will share their best practices with other schools in Colorado.

“They were growing their students year to year and getting great results…not only that, most of the schools selected had a pretty diverse student population,” Donavan said.

“It goes to all the hard work we’ve been doing over the past several years,” Keilman said, “and celebrates the systems that we have in place in the continual professional development.”

Making language development at this school a top priority to prepare students for their academic success. 

“Everything that I learned in middle school, it’s really going to help me get through high school and hopefully get to college,” Tapia said.

For more information about The Succeeds Prize, go to TheSucceedsPrize.org.