When Wellington Landings Middle School Principal Blake Bennett noticed that many of her students were not as technologically savvy as others, and with technology skills becoming in ever-higher demand, she sought a way to help.
The result? The school’s Pre-Business Information Technology choice program.
Several years ago, after her first year on the job, Bennett noted that the school did not have any choice programs. She started looking into pre-business programs, realizing that all of her students must learn how to keyboard, since all of their assessments are computer-based.
“I wanted to make sure that we can measure what the children know, not how fast they can type,” she explained.
Many of the literacy standards also encompass multimedia approaches, where students need to know how to present, speak, listen and do so in a multimedia approach for the Florida State Standards for literacy.
“I need to make sure I’m on top of that. Not only can my kids type, they need to know how to use Word. They need to know how to use Excel. They need to know how to use Publisher and PowerPoint, because otherwise they’re going to be thwarted in being able to do all of these multimedia approaches to the speaking, listening and presenting parts of the literacy standards,” she said.
Bennett explored what would align with high school programs and noticed that many of her students participate in marketing programs in high school. To benefit them in the future, the Information Technology choice program was born.
In sixth grade, students spend half the year learning keyboarding, then learn various Microsoft programs in the Keyboarding and Computer Applications class. In seventh grade, the students focus more on applications.
New for the 2016-17 school year, seventh-graders will also have the opportunity to earn an industry certification. In eighth grade, a high school credit course is offered in which students take an industry certification exam, the CIW Internet Business Associate exam, earning a CIW Internet Business Associate certification.
“Children can put that on college applications and job applications,” Bennett said. “It shows that they’ve mastered something in the industry that would give them a leg up. These would be all of the prerequisites, too, for going into either a marketing program or a web design program in high school.”
Choice Coordinator Michael Samarel teaches sixth-grade keyboarding and applications classes, where students learn not only how to type, but also the basics of web design and other computer applications and software that are essential to their education and future.
“We allow students to learn how to incorporate typing into their daily routines, a skill that they might not necessarily have, and it will help them out in every subject: reading, writing, social studies and science,” Samarel said. “Nowadays, almost any job… is going to involve interacting with a computer.”
The goal is to ensure that students have the opportunities necessary to prepare for high school, college, trade schools and their future.
“As they move forward into seventh and eighth grade, they start learning about web development and being more familiar with the computer and getting basic skills about how computers work in the business world,” Samarel said. “This is just the beginning of the program. As they move forward into seventh and eighth, they start learning about web development and how it relates to business.”
On Monday, one of this semester’s five sections of sixth-grade students was working on improving typing accuracy while focusing on basic keyboarding and the Word application. Approximately 300 students are in the sixth-grade portion of the program, where most type between 25 and 45 words a minute.
Some of the students type faster, Samarel said, but the focus is on individual improvement. “As long as they’re making individual improvement, that is something that we’re working for,” he said.
Wellington Landings offers seven high school credit courses, more than any other middle school in Palm Beach County. With something for everyone, the school also is focusing on the fine arts, as well as programs for those who need advanced classes and students who need assistance.
Students who are zoned for Wellington Landings can choose the Information Technology choice academy as a course request or can apply to the academy. For students who are zoned for other schools and are considered out-of-boundary, they have to apply through the Palm Beach County School District’s choice and career office.
For out-of-boundary students, there is a lottery system. Currently, there are 200 out-of-boundary spots filled for the 2016-17 school year. The majority of students are incoming sixth-graders, Bennett explained, though seventh-graders and eighth-graders are able to apply for the program.
The school district holds its annual choice programs showcase in October at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
Providing her students with all of the tools necessary to be the most well-rounded they can be prior to high school is important to Bennett, as is availability to advanced programs locally.
“I want to make sure that our kids, in our community, have everything right at their home school. They shouldn’t have to travel to another community to do that,” Bennett said. “Our school, for many years, has outperformed all of the other middle schools, and there are two full-time magnet programs in Palm Beach County — Bak and Don Estridge. We outperform Don Estridge, and we are a regular, public home school.”
To learn more about choice programs at Wellington Landings Middle School, call (561) 792-8100.
ABOVE: Choice Coordinator Michael Samarel and Principal Blake Bennett in one of the technology classrooms.