Cathedral Middle School adds sixth grade, updates curriculum, renovates learning spaces

When students at Cathedral Middle School in St. Cloud head back to class later this month, things will be different. Some major changes are happening over the summer.

First, they will see more students and teachers. The school is adding sixth grade and has hired five new teachers.

“The St. Cloud-area schools’ leadership teams have been discussing the development of a true middle school program for our students for years,” said middle school Principal Erin Hatlestad. “Our public-school counterparts have had sixth to eighth grade for a long time. So, all of the area elementary schools will move their sixth-graders to Cathedral Middle School this fall.”

Middle school students talk about a robotics project in the new maker-space at Cathedral Middle School. (photo courtesy of Cathedral Middle & High School)

The students will benefit from having programming that is specific to their age group, she said.

“Studies show that students — especially middle-schoolers — need the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways,” Hatlestad said.

The addition of sixth grade benefits students, she said, but it’s good for the staff, too.

“It allows us to have teachers who are focused on our middle-school students,” Hatlestadt said. “It also gives the younger students the opportunity to be a part of Cathedral, have leadership opportunities and be housed in the same building.”

Along with the addition of a grade level, the middle school curriculum will change to a project-based learning model.

“Gone are the days of memorization of facts,” Hatlestad said. “Students need to develop skills for success, including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, perseverance and others.”

Teachers have used projects as part of their classes for years, but the projects are usually used to showcase what has already been learned.

Project-based learning is different, she said. It makes projects interactive and cross-curricular, with the teaching of standards imbedded in the learning.

“Some days will be spent collaborating on projects,” Hatlestad said. “Other class periods will be spent learning information to assist with the process.”

One example of how the curriculum works would be a project in which students create a walking tour for visitors to the City of St. Cloud. They would research city attractions, meet with members of the community and develop the project by using concepts from a variety of classes.

The new middle-school program is designed to be a Catholic learning experience that serves the whole student — spiritually, behaviorally, socially, emotionally, physically
and intellectually.

“During this crucial development phase, children can use their natural curiosity to explore theoretical concepts and use logic and reasoning to uncover truths,” said Scott Warzecha, president of Catholic Community Schools, of which Cathedral is a part.

“Because we intentionally keep our class sizes small, we can be attentive to each child’s progress, assist them individually and coach them to accomplishment,” he said.

To help facilitate the new curriculum, the school launched a major remodeling project over the summer, Hatlestadt said. The addition of a culinary arts room and a maker-space room in the school’s South Building will allow for hands-on learning, she said.

“The maker-space is a room that is set up for collaboration and creativity,” Hatlestadt said.  Students will be able to use it to access small woodworking tools, hand tools, hot glue guns and other supplies. The culinary arts room will be used for a variety of classes, including nutrition, cultures and life skills.

“These new spaces will allow for more collaboration and development of skills for lifelong success,” Hatlestadt said.

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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