If, as the old saying goes, success is a journey and not a destination, 24 Jane Addams Middle School (Bolingbrook) 8th graders are already well down the road to a terrific future thanks to their uniquelanguage arts class.
Known as “24 Voices,” the 90-minute sessions cover the first two periods of the day and, according to teacher Josh Gage, students are not only discovering the joys of learning but they are also taking their enthusiasm with them into their other classrooms for the remainder of the day.
“Every student has the ability to learn,” Gage said. “But 24 Voices students don’t always have as much faith in themselves as they should have coming into the school year. They’re in this class because they need to see success.”
Based on a successful class put in place several years ago at Lukancic Middle School by Christy Rush-Levine, 24 Voices is showing remarkable results simply by allowing students to help choose curriculum content and decide how long to spend on each specific topic.
“We go through the curriculum at a faster pace than a normal language arts class,” Gage said. “Students make decisions today about what we’re going to teach tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes, if in five minutes they don’t like what we’re reading, we’ll go on to something different.”
Of course, Gage helps steer the students in the right direction, mixing in lessons about the characteristics of good behavior (self control, gratitude, curiosity, optimism, grit, social intelligence and will power) by discussing how main characters match those characteristics, where they falter in those areas and what consequences they faced as a result.
Addams Guidance counselor Dina Esposito and Dean Scott Loughrige, both of whom are closely involved in not only identifying potential 24 Voices students but also working with them throughout the school year, believe the uniquely-structured class has helped students see themselves in a different light.
“Many of them are seeing success for one of the first times in their lives,” Loughrige said. “That’s causing them to strive even harder to be an even bigger success.”
“It’s all about character growth and how we bring that into the curriculum,” added Esposito.
Included in the plan to build character are some efforts to build a sense of camaraderie among class members, including holding a very successful Saturday afternoon Thanksgiving dinner complete with a turkey cooked by Loughrige. Afterward they got to play basketball with Gage who, in addition to being an outstanding language arts teacher, is one of the top junior high basketball coaches in the state.
“They got to hang out with kids they don’t normally hang out with,” Esposito said. “It was great to see these kids come together and build that community feeling.”
On the planning table, Esposito said, is a pizza party for the class and possibly some achievement incentives.
“A lot of middle school students just aren’t engaged in the entire process so we wanted to put these students together in one room to help them enjoy learning at the start of their day,” Gage said. “This class is helping them see success and allowing them to run with it.”