Stephen Decatur Middle School
Location: Berlin, Maryland
No. of Students in School: 650
Teacher: Dr. Janis Currence
No. of Years Teaching: 28 Years
Subject: Integrated language arts
No. of Students in the Classroom: 26
Decatur Middle School is located in Berlin, five miles from
Ocean City on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It is the largest
of Worcester County’s three middle schools, with approximately
650 students in grades seven and eight, of whom 30 percent
are minorities. Decatur draws its students from three areas—a
retirement community, a tourist destination, and a rural town.
Most live outside walking distance. Families represent a wide
range of incomes. Many parents, especially those in Asian
American households, are employed at nearby Perdue Farms,
while many others work in Ocean City’s thriving tourism industry.
Students take the Maryland Functional Reading and Writing
tests, which they must eventually pass in order to graduate
from high school.
its students come from neighborhoods pocketed by both ethnicity
and social class, Decatur has a closeknit school community.
The building’s four wings house separate schools-within-a-school,
each with its own teaching team and student population. This
fosters a sense of security and identity by allowing children
to interact within a smaller group of peers and adults. Teaching
teams, two at each grade level, encourage interdisciplinary
learning and create a standard set of behavioral and academic
expectations across the day. Jan Currence’s seventh graders
know, for instance, that they must use correct punctuation
not only in integrated language arts (ILA), but also in science
and social studies. Dr. Currence’s team includes two math
teachers, two ILA teachers, one social studies teacher, and
a science teacher, as well as an educational assistant and
an in-class special education resource person. The team has
regular meetings to facilitate cross-curricular planning.
Class periods are double-blocked to allow greater freedom
Within a seventh-grade class of 26 to 28 students, Dr. Currence may have reading levels spanning from second grade through college. According to county mandates, she must focus on particular genres—realistic fiction, historical fiction, mythology, poetry, and drama—but within this structure, she may select the individual texts her students will examine. To accommodate the range of interests and skill levels in her classroom, and to give children a voice in their own education, she allows students great flexibility in what they choose to read. She also reads books aloud to engage children in challenging discussions of texts that are above their reading level but not their comprehension. Individualized learning goals and performance-based assessments are the norm, and Dr. Currence regularly enlists students’ help in developing rubrics and grading criteria.