Falcon Middle School takes classes out of the box

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: November 20, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: November 20, 2012

A class of Falcon Middle School students transformed themselves into zombies in one classroom on Tuesday, after spending the previous day learning tricks of the zombie trade.

Outside, another group of students enjoyed the balmy November weather during a hands-on grilling session from the school principal.

The unusual lessons were among dozens of mini-courses students offered the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving break.

“Sometimes school gets boring and this is not boring,” said 12-year-old Nicholai Wallin, seventh-grader.

He opted for the grilling on Tuesday, and picked up a bunch of new skills, including safety, meat marinating and vegetable grilling.

“I hadn’t been able to learn how to make this food before, so it’s going to make it better,” he said.

The zombie class was working with cups of blood, make-up brushes, paste for wounds, and other tools to create bruises, oozing wounds and bleeding cuts.

“Only boring zombies don’t have injuries,” said 12-year-old Willow Aldridge, seventh-grader.

Theater teacher Jarrett Rivera said he chose the topic because kids are interested in zombies, and it was a different way to teach about plot, setting and character as the kids helped each other with special effects.

“It’s way more fun” than normal classes, said 12-year-old Derek Underwood, seventh-grader. He said he pays more attention when he’s having fun, and is looking forward to zombiefying himself and friends outside of school.

Mini-courses were a regular feature at Falcon Middle School about a decade earlier, before it moved into the current facility. Principal Brian Smith wasn’t sure why the sessions stopped, but teachers pushed for the return when he became principal last year.

Teachers came up with a wide variety of courses, depending on what they thought students would like and their own skills.

“I like it — it’s another alternative to teaching that they don’t usually get,” said Carrie Clay, a Falcon Middle School special education teacher who helped lead a cooking class. “It’s great to see them excited about something different.”

There are 930 students in the Falcon School District 49 middle school. All of them signed up for some of the 40 courses. Some stretched across Monday and Tuesday, others were just one day. Half the courses were free, while the rest had a sliding fee from $3 to $45 based on the cost of materials and transportation.

Kids could chose to dabble in wood shop, scrapbooking or cooking, to name a few topics. Students participating in “cupcake wars” shared their treats around the school.

Field trips were also options. A group went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to learn about Pompeii, another to Bent’s Old Fort. Some students chose a course in the science of flight before visiting an indoor skydiving facility.

“It’s that break that kids need,” Smith said. “It helps the brain recharge.”

He said the kids are learning even though the mini-courses are a drastic departure from a normal school day. He quizzed students after a geology field trip to Garden of the Gods and everyone knew the answers.

In the cooking class, students did everything, from measuring ingredients to mixing. The students will take home all the simple recipes used over the two days, and many said they plan on surprising their family with dinner at some point.

“The only thing I had made before this was a sandwich,” said 11-year-old Ian McClung, sixth-grader. He said the breakfast pizzas were the best to make and to eat.

Working with noodles when making lasagne was the best part of cooking class, said 11-year-old Connor Dillahunty, sixth-grader.

“I like mini-courses, it’s a great time for us to try something different, he said.

Parents thought the mini-courses were a great idea, and some volunteered to help in classes or chaperone field trips, Smith said. Community members also pitched in.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids,” Smith said. “We’re going to try and do this again in April.”

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