High Rock School Improvement Plan goals/ Credit: Needham Public Schools

Continuing the stream of school improvement plan presentations, High Rock School principal Jessica Downey came before the School Committee on April 2 to discuss the school’s priority issues: developing student agency and voice, instituting interdisciplinary learning, and connecting students and curricula to businesses and community members outside the school.

After analyzing the district’s priorities, the High Rock School council examined how it could align with the school’s needs and instruction. Downey said this was done to create more cohesion among school improvement plans across the district, such as those being developed at Pollard Middle School and Needham High School. 

At High Rock, a sixth-grade-separate school, morning advisory before the start of classes serves to put some of these priorities into play. During this time students participate in collaborative activities that teach students how to manage their emotions while also solving complex problems. This concept, called self-management, is a key facet of Social Emotional Learning. One such activity involves setting up car races using coding.

“They have to design a car and then they’re going to have to race each other around the track,” said Downey. “The concept still is about having students come together as a community to collaborate — just to kind of self-manage and not lose their mind while they’re doing this work.”

High Rock also started the Pencils Rule program to promote social awareness and encourage belonging regardless of background. Students were tasked with creating a slogan for High Rock that aligned with the values taught at the school. 

Thirty logos were submitted, and a live feed of potential slogans was broadcast on televisions around the building. Students voted, and “Like a good neighbor, High Rock is there” was the winning slogan. It was printed on pencils and distributed to every student before the MCAS exams.

In keeping with the district’s new civics education requirement, in which schools partner with community members who teach students about their area of expertise, High Rock worked with Wellesley College professor Kim McLeod. During the astronomy unit, students are invited to visit the college’s observatory to learn how astronomy is studied using telescopes. Recently, students participated in an informational session about the upcoming solar eclipse.

Downey emphasized the school also wants to partner with local businesses and other educational institutions such as Olin College for this new curriculum initiative. 

“We forget about the opportunity of reaching out to our community and connecting to businesses and civic leaders who can enrich the experience of students beyond what the teacher is driving,” said Downey.

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