August 28, 2008

Middle Schoolers Go Their Own Way

By Craig Troianello

MABTON -- Starting middle school is intimidating.

"Scary," Tayler Trevino called it.

So what about seventh-graders starting middle school in the same building with high school students?

"That would be worse," Trevino said.

But for 29 years, that's exactly where new seventh-graders found themselves.

No longer. On Tuesday, Trevino and 137 other seventh- and eighth- graders became the inaugural class of the Mabton Middle School, which opened its own mini-campus.

It's not much -- four portable classrooms stacked around an asphalt courtyard.

And there's not much separation from the 262 high school students, either. Mabton High School, formerly known as Mabton Junior-Senior High School, towers just to the east across the parking lot. The middle school students still use it for physical education, certain math classes and lunch.

But most students and teachers at the new Mabton Middle School are still excited for their "own space" and "own identity," which rivaled "cool" as the most common descriptions of the new digs.

"It's cool because it's not always crowded," eighth-grader Ramon Magaa said.

Teachers and administrators say the distance from the older kids will be safer and better for learning.

"There's more distractions when you're around high school kids," said Julie Urrutia, a seventh-grade language arts teacher.

For example, high school students think and talk about graduation, prom and driver's licenses, stuff that should be far on the horizon for a seventh-grader. But sharing hallways and rubbing shoulders thrust it into the younger kids' faces.

"They see high schoolers and they want to act like high schoolers," said Mandy Stephens, an eighth-grade language arts teacher.

The change has been planned for several years and always popped up as a high priority among parents during the school's annual town hall-style meetings.

Lupe Tellez is relieved his daughter Belle, an eighth-grader, is separated from the high school students.

"They're not mature enough to be mixed with the older kids," he said.

Tellez grew up in Mabton. He recalls attending Artz Middle School in the 1960s. The new high school was built in 1979 with vague plans for a separate middle school that never materialized, administrators said.

The Mabton School District expects to take this first step further.

Next year, sixth-graders will join the middle school, moving from their current home at Artz-Fox Elementary School. And the district is considering asking voters for a bond to build a permanent middle school campus sometime in the next few years, said Charlie Plescha, assistant superintendent. However, he has no estimates for it yet.

Ross Courtney can be reached at 930-8798 or [email protected]

The campus may not be much, but Mabton's younger students now split from high school

Ross Courtney

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