School Spotlight: Jackson Middle School
Learning and fun aren't always synonymous with one another, but when a school day involves activities where you mix chemicals that turn into foamy substances, chances are that your perception of school can quickly change.

"When you're dealing with 6th through 8th graders, experiential learning is most engaging for our kids," said Jane Matheson, the curriculum integrator at Jackson Middle School.

That's the mind-set at Jackson Middle School. It's a specialty school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District for math and science, where you'll find aspects of math and science in places you'd least expect.

"So not only do kids do math and science in a math and science class, they're even doing it in some of their other classes, from an inquiry standpoint, or an investigative standpoint in art or in music, or things like English and social studies," said Tom Hagerty, the Jackson Middle School principal.

With an enrollment of nearly 2,200 students, Jackson Middle School is bigger than some high schools.

"We've stopped taking open enrollment students right now cause we just don't have the space or the capacity," Hagerty said.

For the students enrolled here, the goal is to provide every one of them with skills that will prepare them for careers that may not even exist yet.

One way to do that is by placing students in groups -- rather than rows and columns -- to help them collaborate with one another

"Do you know how to collaborate? Do you know how to work together in a team to solve a problem? Are you curious? Are you critically thinking? Can you take something that you do not have the answer to and do more research on it and not give up?" Matheson asked.

In other words, the expectation isn't that every student here will end up in a career in math or science.

"We don't need everybody in math and science," Matheson admitted.

But at the very least, the students will have the tools to be successful in whatever they choose.

"We need to be preparing for the jobs that are gonna be there 8, 9 years from now," Hagerty said.

Yet for the students who are interested in math and science, the school provides them with plenty of resources.

Take for instance the fact that they have an on-campus observatory that teachers integrate into the curriculum.

"He can take kids into the classroom, give them a virtual ride in the planetarium to Mars or Saturn, and then go up into the observatory and show them the actual planets that they just got done talking about and engaged in," Hagerty said.

It's a school with endless learning possibilities that will help students as they transition to high school and beyond.

"That's what our teachers do, and they do it really well at Jackson Middle School," Hagerty said.

One of the challenges of a school with nearly 2,200 hundred is trying to make the students feel connected, but Jackson Middle School has a variety of after school activities students can join to help meet classmates with similar interests.

Delane Cleveland

Nov. 8, 2017


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