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story.lead_photo.caption An ensemble from the North Callaway Middle School Choir gave a performance of "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman during Thursday's North Callaway Board of Education meeting. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

AUXVASSE, Mo. — During Thursday evening's meeting, the North Callaway Board of Education got a peep at life inside the district's new middle school.

The 2020-21 school year is North Callaway Middle School's first. Previously, the building housed Auxvasse Elementary School, and sixth- through eighth-graders were split among the district's elementary schools. Now, those students are together — and they seem to be having a great time. Administrators, teachers and students presented in front of the board.

Principal Jessica Huyser and assistant principal Erikka Brown shared how they're using a "data trifecta" to help students' performance in school. They collect information about each student's behavior, grades and attendance (this year defined by tardies rather than absences), and they meet with students who fall behind in any of the three areas.

"At the beginning of each week we print a report (on grades) and any student with an 'F' gets a one-on-one conference so they can make a plan for the next week to bring that grade up," Brown said.

Teachers take attendance in every class, and students who are repeatedly late to class also get a visit from administrators. These interventions more often take the form of walking with the student between classes to demonstrate it is indeed possible to be on time. The administrator might also talk with the student about checking in with their teacher before going to the bathroom so they're not marked tardy.

"It's neat — in the halls, you hear, 'We've got to go, we don't want to be late,'" Brown said, adding she's seen students improve and get fewer tardies through the year.

Behavioral interventions happen during the last 20 of the day, and they're interractive. In addition to speaking with administrators, students fill out self-assessments about their behaior.

"We try to support them," Huyser said.

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One huge advantage to forming a combined middle school: There are now enough sixth-eighth grade teachers in one place to offer a wide variety of electives. Each semester, students can pick up to two elective courses apieces from a long list of options. These range from conventional — band, choir, drama — to more unusual, like outdoor education. All students must take one semester of physical education/health per semester, however.

PE teacher Kelli Swearingen is doing her best to make the obligation fun. She recently conducted a fundraiser on teacher crowdfunding site "Donors Choose," raising about $600 for two tchouckball nets.

"It's one of the #1 games for middle school," Swearingen said, adding it's grown in popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The game involves bouncing balls off two springy nets, which make a "tchouck" sound when struck.

"When you play, you can't touch anybody," she said. "You can spread out all over the gym because you never know where that ball's going to go."

A girls ensemble from the middle school choir offered a heartfelt performance of "This is Me" from the musical The Greatest Showman, and a few students in the drama/speech club gave a readers' theatre performance of "The Tiny Croked Crack" by Carol Montgomery.

"The biggest complaint we have is that kids only want to do electives," Huyser said.

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