Picacho Middle School
Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico
No. of Students in School: 907
Teacher: Flora Tyler
No. of Years Teaching: 21
Subject: Language Arts
No. of Students in the Classroom: 20
Middle School in Las Cruces, New Mexico is founded on the
principles of collaboration and interdisciplinary learning.
Students in grades six through eight work with cross-curricular,
thematic units that have bearing on children's daily lives
and decisions. The school hopes to help students learn to
make smart choices based on facts, not myths and misperceptions.
Classes are also designed to help students feel good about
themselves through a sixth-grade team emphasis on multiple
intelligences. As proof that this philosophy works, the school
touts its high daily attendance and active programs in music,
art, athletics, and community service.
student body is predominantly Hispanic, with smaller populations
of Anglo, African American, Native American, and Asian students.
While some children come from affluent households, many are
from migrant families or live in shelters and other temporary
housing. Language barriers and a lack of staff to conduct
home visits complicate the process of contacting parents.
Although a few schools in the area have begun dual prep programs
where all students are taught in two languages, Picacho continues
to use an ESL approach in which students are mainstreamed
with help. As required by the state, all sixth-graders take
the New Mexico Writing Assessment, in which students have
three hours to respond to a writing prompt. The state also
mandates that students in grades six through eight take the
TerraNova, which helps determine what rating a school receives.
size at Picacho ranges from 23 to 25 in 85-minute blocks.
Teachers at each grade level are divided into two teams, each
responsible for 120 to 150 children. They have one 45-minute
common planning period. In Flora Tyler's sixth-grade team,
teachers collaborate to sketch out the highlights and themes
for the year's curriculum, including at least two weeklong
interdisciplinary units per semester. The team's emphasis
is on challenging all students through individualized expectations
and support. Ms. Tyler also works with the second language
arts teacher to plan common objectives for each quarter, although
their classes usually take different routes to arrive at these
goals. Ms. Tyler's classroom is a celebration of different
learning styles. She frequently uses music, art, and imagery
to set a mood or make a point for instance, reinforcing
the meaning of punctuation by having students click, clap,
and snap the different rhythms each mark produces. Students
are required to incorporate multiple ways of knowing into
any presentation, and may ask their classmates for their help
and expertise in completing a project. Ms. Tyler's goal is
to instill a sense of self-worth in each of her students by
helping them to discover and develop their areas of strength.