Students and teachers are breaking in Thunder Mountain High School, Juneau's newest school.
"I'm feeling really good about a lot things," said Patti Bippus, the school's principal. "The sense of identity is developing"
Students are forming new clubs, starting new traditions, and recently voted on which student-written constitution to ratify. Someone has even scrawled the seemingly obligatory naughty word on a stall in the boys' bathroom.
Before its doors opened less than two months ago, TMHS had a rocky history. The community was divided on the need for a new high school. After its construction was approved, some parents were concerned about the school's teaching model.
At TMHS students are into divided into groups of about 100 and assigned about four core teachers. In the ninth grade, the groups are called small learning communities, in 10th and 11th grade, those groups are called academies. There are no 12th-graders currently enrolled at the new school.
Teachers said that the smaller groups foster a team approach, which means more work outside the classroom, but makes it easier to identify to students who need extra help.
"Building relationships is faster and easier," said ninth-grade math teacher Carol May.
"I know what they're doing in other classes," said Kristin Garot, an academy English teacher.
History teacher Joe Powers said he had reservations about the academy model before the school year began, but has been impressed by the team approach.
"That's a real plus," Powers said, adding that the team approach can also help identify students who need more challenging classes.
The academies at Thunder Mountain are themed. One focuses on humanities, the other on math and sciences.
Powers said teachers were still working on how to differentiate the curriculum between academies while still covering the basics, and so far there's no differences in curriculums.
Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said it's not surprising that teachers are still adjusting, and it would likely take three years before Juneau's teachers master the academy model.
She said the goal of academies is to make education purposeful and give students a focus, but that they were never meant to be a radical break from the traditional core curriculums.
For their parts, students had varied opinions about the new school. Some said they disliked TMHS and wanted to transfer back to the school district's other high school, Juneau-Douglas High School.
"I don't feel like I've ever left middle school," said sophomore Linda Cabello.
Others said the new school is "pretty cool."
"It's cool to be the first freshman class," said Darien Stanger.
Bippus said she's heard the complaint that TMHS feels too much like a middle school but said she sees that as a positive knock on the school.
"One of the things middle schools try to do is give students the opportunity to be involved with other students on a regular basis and to personalize the education for them," Bippus said. "I see that as a good thing."
She said the school is still trying to work out a few scheduling glitches, but overall things are running smoothly.
"We're working hard to make it a great place," Bippus said.
Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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