Principal: Benton Middle School values students first

By The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Published December 4, 2008 at 2:03 a.m.
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— In America's schools today, there is an obvious and needed concern for academic achievement. At Benton Middle School, we value education, but we value the individual student first. Students' physical, emotional and social needs must first be met before they can concentrate on the academic challenges. Middle-schoolers are often caught "in the middle" of many things. By reducing stress and feeling valued, students are encouraged and can then be challenged to strive for academic excellence.

Counselor Pasley Butler said, "When we take the time to value a student through the little things, big changes occur."

Cindy Haltom, a sixth-grade teacher, said, "One of the toughest jobs for educators is meeting the needs of all students. In order to meet individual needs, it all begins with relationships and making connections with each student."

Classroom teacher Shelby Sasfai said, "Preparing all of our students for what is ahead is a common goal of all who work here."

The cafeteria staff, under the leadership of Sherry Warren, provides daily meals, smiles and encouragement to all students. They become familiar with the students and often share concerns with administrators regarding student needs. Custodians Glenn Sanders, Lily Hill and Diana Witham help and encourage students daily. Ms. Witham, who is retiring this month after 28 years of service to the Benton School District, believes BMS educates the whole child. "I've never had my own children, but I have been blessed with 600 to 700 children every year. Everyone is like family around here. It is a loving and caring place."

Holding true to the BMS motto, "Whatever It Takes," nurse Sherri Poe said, "We look at everything that is happening in a child's life. It takes everybody working together."

Choral Director Reeca Norman will tell you that her classes "cover a variety of styles of music while developing proper singing techniques and habits. As we sing various songs, we reach everyone's favorite style and learn to respect the diversity of our class."

Peggy Cromwell, who teaches English Language Learners, shared that "faculty members are very creative in finding ways to help ELL students succeed and become a part of the school family."

Shirley Mundy, computer lab and tutoring services director, said, "Practice makes permanent." She heard this from a coach and feels that she helps support the classroom curriculum by giving kids extra practice.

Classroom teacher, Audrey Grenier, observes that "every staff member, whether a teacher, counselor, secretary, administrator, cafeteria worker, custodian or media specialist, is constantly working to help students become well-rounded individuals. I help sponsor the Elf Club, and I see members learning empathy, self-sacrifice, and joy that comes from helping others."

As an advocate for students, Fanny Jones, school counselor, noted how rewarding it is to witness the BMS staff confront daily challenges faced by children. Jones coordinates a weekend snack bag program with Rice Depot, but she said that several BMSstaff members personally contribute to the program as well.

Jones and Butler interviewed several BMS students to catch their views on the "whole child" concept. Some of their comments follow:

◊"I think that my counselor, teachers and coaches wish the best for me. They feel like family. They show how we can do our best." - Quincy Hill

◊"Benton Middle School has helped me by helping me become a better reader. I love the way the teachers make reading fun. At BMS, we have respect for one another." - Franklin Ventry

◊"At Benton Middle School, our teachers are more than teachers; they're our friends, and would help us with any problem we have." - Ryan Rodriquez

◊"Teachers and staff at BMS don't just teach us mental skills. They are like family, and they help us with problems if we have any." - Sami Goldman

◊"The teachers give us the hammers to help build a better educational status and an emotional one." - Olivia Barnes

◊ "If we have any personal problems we can tell any teacher, and they will help put a Band-Aid on it." - Braxton Chumley

◊"The teachers and staff help us write the 'middle school' chapter in our book of life." - Hayley Ferguson

◊"If I came to school with an empty stomach, there is not a doubt in my mind that any of the teachers at BMS would let me get something to eat in the cafeteria or use their own money to buy me something to eat. That is why BMS is so good to all of us kids." - Marques Lewis

Olivia Cathey summed up the BMS experience with these words: "BMS is a great place for students. We can interact with real world challenges, be in a safe environment and have a fun learning experience. We have fabulous teachers. They encourage us and make us feel like we belong."

Benton Middle School is "A Whole Building Educat ing t he W hole Child."

(Benton Middle School staff assisted Sue Shults, principal, in preparing this article.)

None The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette can be reached at news@arkansasonline.com.