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Learning from the 2018 Finalists' Classrooms, Part II

Second Visit: Vanessa Ko, Palm Harbor Middle School, Palm Harbor - Palm Harbor Middle School is a beautiful school. Bright posters and student work adorned the walls showing their Panther Pride. The office staff was very friendly and employed students as office assistants to check-in and escort visitors across campus. The young man who accompanied me was very friendly and made polite conversation as we walked to Vanessa’s class. Palm Harbor Middle School has received the Golden School Award and Five Star School Award for years which attests to their community and volunteer support. The school offers industry certification in Microsoft and Woodshop and hosts a variety of clubs, athletic team sports, AVID, and music programs. Simply put, the school is a very warm, busy, exciting learning institution.

Vanessa is the co-director of the AVID program. This year she is teaching the seventh-grade AVID class. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a college and career readiness program, specifically recruiting the school’s academic middle who show potential for success in advanced courses when given support through the AVID class. PHMS currently has five sections with approximately 125 students enrolled. The students work on inquiry-based tutorials twice a week with high school or college tutors. The other days are focused on developing higher order thinking skills, critical reading, and writing to learn as well as spending time on soft skills, such as time management, organization, effective communication, public speaking and goal setting with action steps. The students also explore college and career opportunities.

This year Vanessa is piloting a new program, a block class of eighth graders who achieved Level 3 in mathematics for the first time as seventh graders. She is teaching these students both Pre-Algebra and Algebra I Honors. This is the class Vanessa was teaching when I arrived. It was easy to see many instructional strengths, but I want to specifically share two of these: using cooperative structures and asking questions. As I walked into her classroom, the students were working collaboratively to complete the bell ringer concerning types of solutions for systems of equa