IGNACIO – Ignacio schools often excel in sports, but academics have lagged, and the district has worked for years to improve performance. If Ignacio Middle School is any indication, they’re succeeding.
Students at the school have qualified for four academic competitions in different content areas at the state level, including the Spelling Bee, Science Fair, History Day and Destination Imagination.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Principal Christopher deKay said. “I am so proud of the students and the hard work our teachers have been putting in.”
What is the school doing that is paying off?
“I call it a tripod,” he said. “Parents have been very supportive and want to see their students challenged in a more meaningful kind of way. We’ve had some continuity in staffing, and teachers really stepped up and brought in programs, sacrificing their own time. And the students have to say, ‘I’m willing to work hard to compete with the brightest students in the (La Plata) county and state.’”
How do you spell ...?More than 10,000 students from across the state participated in local spelling bees. IMS student Emerald Owens spelled “deciduous” correctly to become one of about 280 to advance to the state Denver Post Colorado State Spelling Bee.
“It had three vowels in a row,” she said, “and I thought, ‘This can’t be right.’ But it was.”
Emerald, who participates in an after-school program called Curiosity at IMS, studied on her own by collecting words in a well-thumbed yellow pad. At the state level, she was undone in the written round by words such as “vichyssoise.”
“But it was fun meeting new people,” she said, “and seeing my name in The Denver Post.”
Science FairThree Ignacio Middle School students qualified to go to the Colorado Science Fair in April.
The success, deKay said, was because of a collaboration between language arts teachers working with them on writing while the science teachers helped them develop their projects. Another element was that students selected topics where they had a particular interest.
“My inspiration was when we were driving at twilight, and my mom hit a deer,” said 13-year-old Jeffrey Brittain, who studied where deer tend to congregate and where they most pose a threat to drivers. “It really startled me, and I realized I see them every day on my way to school (from Arboles to Ignacio).”
Jason Foutz, 14, wondered how accurate labels on beverages are regarding sugar content. The answer? It depended on the manufacturer. Pepsi and Mountain Dew were the big offenders, with both containing almost 10 grams more than on the label.
“They’re made by the same company,” Jason said. “The variations made sense when the sugar was being added by hand, but now that it’s done by machine, they could be more precise.”
Kourtney Schurman turned her love of rodeo into an analysis of horse strides by measuring their shoulders to their hooves. Using a video recording, she took a look at her family’s three horses, Cayenne, Marbles and Bubbles. Cayenne, with the smallest shoulder angle, had the longest stride, she said, but Marbles is older, so that affected his shorter stride.
History DayMatthew Belleau was one of three students to qualify for National History Day in Colorado in April. He combined his love of science and history to look at the development of telescopes, from Galileo to the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2018.
Elco Garcia explored the Navajo code talkers from World War II, the only code the Japanese couldn’t break.
“It felt important to know my cultural past because I’m Navajo,” he said. “I was surprised it was a non-Navajo, Philip Johnston, who came up with the idea.”
And Brianna Henderson delved into the Armenia genocide by the Ottoman Empire during World War II, focusing on the religious aspects.
ImaginingThe seven girls on Ignacio Middle School’s Destination Imagination Team qualified on Saturday to go to the state competition with their musical mashup. It was the first year the school had a team for the competition, DeKay said, and it was thanks to gifted and talented teacher Joseph Duffy.
Makayla Miller-Peterson managed the team, which included Kyia Box, Victoria Riehl, Kaytlynn Porter, Anika Shideler, Santana Edd-Belin and Jaylene Riepel.
“Even though it was stressful, we were all friends, and we knew how to overcome problems,” Makayla said. “We talked through everything instead of arguing. And it was a good experience learning from our peers.”
DeKay hopes the successes of the school’s eighth-graders portend good things to come.
“I hope the younger kids see they can perform and compete at high levels, and they’ll be inspired to do the same,” he said. “I feel like the school as a whole is moving forward in a really good way as we stress academics with character. The competitions completely align with the school’s goals, which the staff take seriously, and the kids have bought in.”