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Update on Bluffton Middle School

Provided by Joshua Kauffman, middle school principal

The following column is from the winter issue of the  Bluffton school newsletter, sent to community members in late January.
By Joshua Kauffman
Middle School principal

The 2020-2021 school year has been one that will forever leave an imprint on all of us when we look back on it years from now. Changes such as wearing masks, disinfecting between classes, creating one-directional hallways, social distancing, and quarantining have been added to the vocabulary of schools.

Despite these changes and mandates, the resiliency of our students and the determination of our staff to navigate these unchartered waters to provide calm amidst the storm have been amazing. It has been inspiring to watch each day unfold; the students in our community are privileged to get a first-rate education every day at BMS.

With all the challenges that faced us in 2020, our goal in the MS has been to foster a positive and uplifting atmosphere for the students during the pandemic. One of the bigger projects we worked on was a photo frame project.  In order to make our building warm and inviting, we wanted to feature snapshots on the hallway walls of all 280 students. This was done to emphasize to students that each one matters and is a part of our Pirate family.

These pictures feature smiling students enjoying special events here or from the spring and summer activities they did.  We believe this serves as a positive, daily reminder of their value. We also introduced voluntary karaoke on Thursdays in our 7th-grade choir classes; this allowed students to be in the spotlight among their peers and to sing on stage. This has been a huge hit, and students  look  forward  to  the  activity.  Watching  them  cheer  on  and encourage one another has been remarkable.

Throughout the year, we have been reinforcing positive student behavior through our new Pirate Pride bucks.  Names are drawn weekly, monthly, and quarterly; students look forward to these and enjoy hearing their names called over the loud speaker to come and claim their prizes.

These prizes have come from local businesses in the Bluffton Community, and students love being able to use their prizes locally. Since we have been unable to celebrate student birthdays as we normally did, our awesome kitchen staff now provides students with homemade cake in the café each month, and I have enjoyed writing personalized cards to our students to make sure they know that Covid would not take away our ability to celebrate their special day.

Our most recent positive experience was right before Christmas where students were able to decorate teachers’ doors around the theme of “Elf.” I can tell you that the hallways were a winter wonderland, and students really enjoyed getting our school ready for the holidays.

In an effort to be proactive to the demands that this year has created, we introduced two new sections to students’ schedules that included our advisory and W.I.N. periods. Both of these have been instrumental in meeting students’ academic and social-emotional needs on a daily basis.

On an ongoing basis, students have set goals for themselves and have been checking with their teachers to ensure they are remaining focused and productive.  Because of the social and emotional toll a year such as this takes on our students, we thought it would be a perfect time to launch our middle school core values to students through our new Pirate Pact.  Our pact spells out PIRATES with the letters standing for Pride, Initiative, Readiness, Attitude, Tolerance, Excellence, and Strength.

Every day, students engage in social-emotional learning activities centered around these values and get the opportunity to engage in conversations with their peers and teachers during advisory class.  It is our hope that by teaching students these values and showing them how to apply them in their lives, not only will they strive to be the best they can be, but they also will exemplify a positive impact in our community and within their homes.

Another exciting addition to the middle school this year has been the update and remodel of our MS library into a multi-functional makerspace that we call the Design Deck. We were able to provide students a pirate-themed, customized space. Students are able to check out books and use that space to create custom designs as they build or use a variety of hands-on materials to bring their visions to life.

One early success in that highly popular space was the start of a first Lego League robotics team.  Another involved students engineering custom cardboard pieces as they participated in the Cardboard Challenge. Who knew forts, pinball machines, vending machines, and basketball shoot-out stations could be created with a little bit of cardboard and a lot of imagination? With the new furnishings and flooring and the addition of some really unique wall-to-wall graphics, our students love to get their build-on in that fresh space.

Even though we haven’t been able to enjoy many off-campus field trips this year, we have still tried to provide great experiences for our students, both in and out of the school. In art class, students participated in our Lion’s Club Peace Poster contest. In our health classes, students were able to experience some service-learning projects such as raking leaves for families near the school and holding a canned food drive for the Bluffton Food Pantry.

In our choir, band, and strings classes, students were still able to participate in recorded concerts to showcase all their hard work. Our sports teams also have been doing very well this year and have navigated many challenges in order to continue playing throughout the pandemic. All the extras that have happened this year certainly have been an undertaking, and it has taken the work of everyone, both here in school and within our community, to make it all happen.

So, I want to thank you for doing your part to help us here at school. Like many other sacrifices that have had to be made, we recognize that they are not easy and certainly do not go unnoticed. It is because of our community’s efforts that I am able to sit here in my office, this January, to write this letter, when, quite frankly, we weren’t sure we would make it through October.

On behalf of the staff here at Bluffton Middle School, we appreciate your continued support and prayers, and, hopefully, as we turn the page to the 2021-2022 school year ahead, we can do so with great optimism and hope.