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Motivated Students Make a Better School

Teachers, students, and parents work together in Houston, Texas

By Erin Sheena | null null , null
Kid Reporter Erin Sheena with one of her teachers, Michael Giroir, who teaches Leadership, coaches girls' soccer, and advises student council. (Photo courtesy Erin Sheena)
Kid Reporter Erin Sheena with one of her teachers, Michael Giroir, who teaches Leadership, coaches girls' soccer, and advises student council. (Photo courtesy Erin Sheena)

First day of middle school.

Lockers. Changing Classes. Upstairs. Downstairs. Clubs. Football Games. Homeroom. Daily Planners.

Starting middle school is a big adjustment.
My school, Sidney Lanier Middle School, is a public International Baccalaureate School in Houston, Texas. Lanier is a diverse school of about 1,350 students. Students represent all parts of Houston and all parts of the socioeconomic scale. Lanier was recently named one of the top three Middle Schools for Children at Risk in Houston Independent School district.
Lanier's principal, Linda Smith, paints a picture of the school as very special.

"The kids a very unique in that they speak a ton of different languages," Principal Smith says. "They are very international and very global. They come from all parts of the country and all parts of the world."
Another valuable program at Lanier is GSG, or Guided Support Group.

"GSG is a program where we a building leaders," Principal Smith says. "This teaches the kids how to deal with the things that are out there in society."
Michael Giroir teaches Leadership, coaches girls' soccer, and advises student council. In Mr. Giroir's leadership class, eighth grade student leaders learn how to teach lessons to their GSG "homeroom" classes. Each homeroom has 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students that stay together over the middle school years. Lessons include diversity, hate crimes, peer pressure, and time management.
Mr. Giroir uses technology daily in the classroom.

"Student leaders are emailed weekly lessons that they are going to be teaching," he says. "Cameras are used to videotape the lessons, that way we can go back and diagnose what went right and what went wrong."
Student leaders face some of the pressure that the teachers face as they become the teacher during homeroom sessions.
Teachers are under pressure from students, administration, parents and the community.

"You are teaching the future, and you want to be there for the kids, " Mr. Giroir says.
Franz Hill, my GSG teacher, explains why the school has been very successful in the past years.

"The students we get are all very self motivated," Mr. Hill says. "One of the problems that we see throughout the educational system is that students are not being motivated. I am lucky that I teach an elective because I know that the students want to be here. But I see that throughout the school—whether it is Math or Geography Club or Chess or Soccer, they all want to be here. That's what really makes the students special. "
Mr. Hill led Lanier to another victory as Debate coach over summer break. Lanier's speech and debate team has won eight consecutive national titles (2003–2010) at the National Junior Forensic League Speech and Debate Championship.
Building community should be a goal in education, according to Mr. Hill. "There is a sense of Lanier community that makes it a special place to be," he says.
That sense of community goes beyond the teachers and students.

"Parents support us," Mr. Hill said. "For debate tournaments, for example, the parents bring the kids snacks and lunches during tournaments and after-school Debate Club. They volunteer as judges. They even travel as chaperones to National Forensic debate tournaments. The last tournament was in Iowa. It would be difficult without the parents.
"I think that the one thing that there needs to be more focus on is creating a community around the schools," he added. "If you have happy kids, you have happy families. If you have happy families, you have happy communities, and it makes the world a better place."
My advice for anyone starting middle school is to get involved — and get your family involved. Joining the Lanier community was a little scary at first, but I definitely think that I belong to a special family at my new school. Go Purple Pups!


In conjunction with NBC News' Education Nation, Kid Reporters around the country have interviewed their teachers, principals, and classmates about the state of education in their communities and what the classroom of the future might look like in the special report Our Schools, Our Future.


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