Outcomes of the Family Plan in Las Vegas
Within several years of restructuring and implementing the instructional method, teachers, parents, and students began to see a number of outcomes that they strongly believe were attributable to the Family Plan, cooperative learning, and the interdisciplinary units. The following is a list of these outcomes as reported by these three groups.
- Teachers' knowledge about middle school education, cooperative learning, and teaching through interdisciplinary units increased.
- Class size decreased from 25 students to approximately 20 students per teacher, thus providing students with more individualized attention.
- Closer monitoring of students' academic and behavioral performance resulted, and students were, as a result, no longer able to "slip through the cracks."
- Students were provided with more leadership opportunities, with models of appropriate learning behavior, and with opportunities to teach and learn from their peers.
- Students were exposed to an integrated curriculum that tied together knowledge and skills from the four core subjects.
- Student academic performance rose as indicated by the increase in the number of students who made the honor roll and the decrease in the number of failures.
- Student behavior improved as evidenced by a 50 percent decrease in discipline referrals and a reduction in the number of active gang members from 42 in 1992 to 8 in 1995.
- Within the families,close bonds developed among students as well as between students and teachers.
- Collaboration among teachers increased.
- Teachers learned more about their colleagues' instructional skills and knowledge as a result of working in interdisciplinary teams.
- Communication among teachers and between teachers and parents improved dramatically.
- Parent involvement increased.
- Resources (resulting from the acquisition of grants) increased.
- Community involvement increased, with more community members joining the PTA and mentoring students.
Finally, student feedback indicated that the Family Plan was viewed as extremely beneficial, especially for adolescents. Many students voiced their feeling that the Family Plan was exactly what they needed at that time in their lives, and that they felt better prepared to deal with the trials and tribulations of high school life as a result of their experience. As one student captured it:
"Life in middle school is always changing. I mean mentally and physically. And I think that the Family Plan does help you because your friends are there and your teachers talk to you about your problems. In high school they don't do that. Now we're by ourselves and we have to learn to be by ourselves. I think now I wouldn't want it anymore because I've learned to be more independent. I've changed so I don't think it would make that much of a difference anymore, but it made a difference when I had it!"
In contrast, a small faction of students believed that the Family Plan was more of a hindrance than a support in their transition to high school. They reported that at the middle school level they learned to become interdependent through mutual care, shared support, and collaborative work. But this hindered them as they entered high school since independence not interdependence was the school norm. As two students expressed:
"In a way it didn't help. It taught us to lean on someone else and not be independent . . . Always depend on someone else and not ourselves. Now we're having to adjust to something different . . . I think it made it harder coming to high school."
Although these last two students viewed the Family Plan as an obstacle to their smooth transition to high school life, their comments reveal that Mr. Atencio and his change facilitators accomplished what they set out to achieve his vision. Memorial, with its Family Plan structure, cooperative learning, and interdisciplinary units became a place where students felt they were a part of something a place where they gained a feeling of belonging, and where the importance of interdependence was conveyed. As Mr. Atencio stated, "We are in it together. We either survive together or go down together."
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