By Martin Couch
There are many positive things taking place at[more] Bryant Middle School these days.
• The Chess Club, under the direction of Greg Wertenberger, had a player Christian Kaito Martin win first place at a recent state-wide tournament where the Bryant team received second overall.
• Ron Hubbard, the engineer teacher, took a group of students to Fort Smith for a competition with several other schools and Bryant was in the elite of that event, as well.
Just to name a couple of the most recent.
“We have gotten recognition and it’s very deserving,” said Bryant Middle School principal Sue Reeves.
On the academic front, some Bryant Middle teachers have returned from teaching abroad in China, Russia and South Africa.
“It’s a really diverse group of teachers we have here,” Reeves said.
Bryant Middle School has 1,189 students in three grades, with the sixth grade being the largest at 445 students.
“They are all really good kids despite the large numbers,” Reeves said. “They don’t walk they run everywhere, but they are so good.”
Reeves has been in the Bryant School District for 24 years. She grew up in Hope and attended the University of Arkansas, gaining a degree in education and counseling. She went to Kenya in East Africa to be a teacher for two years and came back to work at the University of Texas at Dallas as an international student advisor. From there, Reeves moved to Texas Tech in the same advisory capacity before she got married to her husband, who is also from Hope.
“He convinced me to move back to Arkansas, but I didn’t know quite what to do,” Reeves said. “I saw an advertisement for a counseling position here at Bryant and applied.”
Former Bryant Elementary principal Bill Spencer responded to her application.
“He asked me if I was interested in a position, but we discovered that my certification wouldn’t fit his needs and he passed my application to the upper level,” Reeves said.
Ken Vaughn called Reeves for an interview for a counseling position and then superintendent Ed Love spoke to her about being the Dean of Women.
“I said yes I’d be interested in the position and pursing my administration degree if I were to be considered for the position,” Reeves recalled. “We shook hands and went on our way. When Mr. Vaughn called me to extend an offer it was for the Dean of Women job. That’s what got me into administration and I’m grateful to them for allowing me to serve.”
Reeves was the Dean of Women for four years before becoming principal at the Middle School.
“With the growth and the need to address the adolescents at this age we needed a true middle school and when they decided to take that direction, I applied for the job and landed here,” Reeves said. “We used to be in the sixth grade wing of the elementary, then we brought the seventh graders down and later on the eighth graders. We partner with Bryant Elementary and we share facilities. We have a good partnership.”
Bryant Middle School offers academic classes for most every need and ability level of the students, from AP courses, to co-teaching classes and resource classes.
“We offer AP classes in all the core subjects,” Reeves said.
There is a sixth grade drama class, art and fine arts, like choir and band.
“We have about 106 sixth graders in band right now,” Reeves added. “We have a strong band program and we are very proud of that.”
Also offered for seventh graders is a class similar to the traditional typing class where students learn the keyboard and positions. They create documents and work on speed typing.
There is an advanced keyboarding class that specifically deals with computer technology that introduces students to different software programs to create documents and brochures. The school also offers sixth graders a similar class that incorporates the use of digital cameras and document creations and building websites.
The school also offers career orientation in which a volunteer group coordinated through the Bryant Chamber of Commerce brings in business leaders to speak to the students.
“They tell what it means to be successful and follow a career path,” Reeves said. “In addition, they talk about what it’s going to take to be an Arkansas Scholar. We really promote Arkansas Scholars here. Basically, it’s a free ride and if they play their cards right with solid grades and good attendance, they can make it there.
“With the Common Core standards coming down the pike, students are going to be expected to produce a product,” Reeves said. “They will be assessed online. We are trying now to introduce more rigorous skills for them so when it comes time they will be ready. Common Core will be good for our kids. They will be on the same playing field as a student from Kansas or Ohio or somewhere where the same standards apply.
“I think it causes educators to look at what we are teaching and to maximize every minute of every day,” she continued. “We can’t lose our competitive edge with other countries as far as the workforce is concerned. Jobs are going overseas and we have to keep them here. We have to have students who can think and create and the Common Core is going to bring more rigor to the standards for them at a younger age, but the products are at a much higher level. It’s not going to be like reading a chapter and answering the questions in the book, it’s going to take research from the outside, synthesis and evaluation. It’s a whole different ballgame. Research is a big part of the Common Core.”
Reeves also mentioned that Bryant Middle is seeing a larger influx of Hispanic students. Therefore, the school offers English As A Second Language classes.
“Most of them pick up the language in elementary, but this class is for those who still need a little help,” she said. “We also offer an introductory Spanish class for our students, too.”
One challenge that Bryant Middle School faculty has is making the transition for the students from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school as smooth as possible.
“Transition is so critical to this age level,” Reeves said. “We have improved upon it this year, but I believe there is still more we can do to improve. We have made significant strides and every spring we do an informal visit for the elementary students to let them get an idea of what to expect when they get to the middle school. We invite them to come tour our facility and ask questions.”
Davis, Collegeville, Bryant, Salem, Hurricane Creek, Springhill and Paron are the current elementary schools that feed into Bryant Middle School and Bethel Middle School.
“I do think, with the growth, there is a lot of uncertainty with building a whole new school or an annex,” Reeves said. “This is something that is on the forefront of the school board member’s minds. They have to think five to 10 years in advance and they can’t wait too long. They are working on a new high school, but their next project is another elementary school. The goal is to alleviate the growing pains from elementary.”
Reeves also says that the middle school teachers and administrative staff are the best of the best.
“We have several staff members who have worked hard to earn their national board certification,” she said. “It is a very prestigious honor and there is so much work involved. But it helps our kids because their knowledge is filtered down into the classroom. And the teacher’s interests are all over the spectrum from very athletic to the most creative. But they are a family and they support one another and, most of all, our students. You can tell they are proud to be teachers here at Bryant.
“I feel very blessed to have the staff we do and I attribute it to our school board. They are very supportive of the staff and the decisions they make. They are first for the children and how we can equip our teachers to do the best job for our students and it has to be a team effort.”
Basically, Reeves has a love for teaching and a love for her students.
“I love the things that come out of their mouths at this age,” she said. “At lunch duty, the kids are more relaxed and they will tell me personal stories. Some of them are heartbreaking, but most are just fun. I really do love these kids. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”