Strickland takes middle school beyond academics

Shannon CareyHalls

Halls Middle School principal Jessica Strickland will be the first to say that there’s a lot going on in the middle school years. It’s a time of awkwardness and emotional upheaval, a time that many people remember as the worst years of their lives. But somehow, learning still has to happen, and maybe more than learning.

This is Strickland’s third year as HMS principal, and she enjoys what she calls the “family” feel of a school steeped in history and community good will. She’s president-elect of the Tennessee Association of Middle Schools, which gives an annual award named in honor of former HMS principal Mr. James Ivey.

“A lot of our teachers have been here their whole careers or are former students who have come back here to teach,” Strickland said.

There are plenty of academic challenges and opportunities at HMS. Part of that is adapting to the TN Ready test, which Strickland said moved the measurement system to a higher benchmark “with not a lot of bridge in between.” Eighth graders at HMS are able to take French and Latin in partnership with Halls High School, and enrichment block electives are giving kids access to coding classes and novel studies this year. Seventh graders are piloting a personalized learning program, too.

But Strickland’s big push this year is addressing that social and emotional turmoil that makes middle school a rough time for kids.

“In middle school, part of the challenge is just middle school itself,” she said. “Middle school is so rough. Middle school kids are different, and they go through challenges, but at the heart it’s about the kids.”

PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support) is going strong at HMS, with students awarded Demon Dollars, named for the school mascot, for good behavior. Every Wednesday, kids get to spend their Demon Dollars on school supplies, cell phone covers, T-shirts and other swag provided by local businesses. The school has added Beta Club for 7th and 8th graders, and the group is set to head to Nashville in November to compete with other schools. Strickland is also trying to revitalize the HMS student council to give students more of a voice in school matters.

There’s also need for increased family involvement at HMS. The upcoming HMS Fall Festival is aimed at giving parents and the community a big event to get them engaged at the middle school.

“We’ve found that parents are very involved at the elementary school level, and they tend to back off in middle school, then get back involved in high school,” Strickland said, acknowledging that some of that may be at middle schoolers’ requests.

But there are plenty of ways parents and community members can get involved at HMS. Strickland said there is always need for volunteers, library helpers, sponsorships and business partners, and even just folks who can share knowledge.

“We are a blessed school and community,” Strickland said. “We have four awesome elementary feeder schools. We are the one school that everybody in this community goes through, and we want to turn out the best possible members of the Halls community.”

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