Highland Board begins spotlighting one building per meeting

by Chris Studor

Feb. 13 school board meeting

Putting a spotlight on one of the five school buildings in the Highland District began with presentations on Highland Middle School at the board’s Feb. 13 meeting.

Superintendent Catherine Aukerman said rotating presentations highlighting what is going on at each of the district’s buildings will provide residents with more insight into the district’s educational programs.

The focus on Highland Middle School began with a presentation by Middle School Principal Rob Henry who reviewed recent improvements to the middle school building. The Middle School currently accommodates 792 students and 43 teachers. Henry said one of the major improvements made over the past year was the installation of air conditioning in the building.

“In the past, it would be so hot in the building by the last two periods of the day that it decreased the ability for the students to focus, they would just be done,” said Henry. “I really think the air conditioning has made a big improvement to how well our students perform, especially at the end of the day.”

Henry said both the east and west gymnasiums have new bleachers and the west gymnasium has new curtains, flag and sound system. He added that the east gymnasium will soon receive a new sound system. The choir room sound system has been updated with sound systems in the east gym and band room up next for sound improvement.

“Improvements to the media center, new carpet, painting and organization have increased the number of books students take out,” said Henry. “Before the renovations, an estimated 93 books were taken out from the library, this year 647 books have been taken out, 358 of them were new books. We have added 539 new titles and purged old books from the shelves. We now have a media specialist on duty a half or full day once a week and it has really made a difference.”

On the horizon are new tables for the art room, new display cases and more band storage room, Henry added.

In addition to Henry’s presentation, two teachers gave presentations on classes offered at Highland Middle School. At the seventh-grade level, the course, Medical Detectives, is taught by teacher Becky Watson. The Medina County Career Center helps provide funding for this class.

“We begin the class with studying common illnesses teaching students the difference between bacterial and viral infections,” said Watson. “We also do a ‘patient’ diagnosis where each student is assigned an illness. Students then have diagnostic questions to ask such as; whether the patient was out of the country recently, has a rash, temperature, etc. The students also study how each of the common illnesses are treated. The students love this exercise.”

Watson said students also study the parts of the brain and what makes new neurons grow in the brain.

“We actually dissect a sheep’s brain and the students must identify the 22 parts of the brain,” she said. “Another part of our curriculum is studying neurotoxins and how they can cause food illness outbreaks.”

Watson said she wanted to thank the Highland Foundation for funding of the program.

Also presenting was Kelly D’Annolfo, eighth-grade science teacher. She reviewed the eighth-grade Science of Technology class.

“We start out by making ice cream because combining the salt with the wet ingredients produces a chemical reaction making ice cream,” said D’Annolfo. “As you can imagine the students love the exercise and we move on to how different combinations of salt are used to melt street ice.”

Another exercise is an ecology oil spill simulation or bioremediation. D”Annolfo said students study major oil spills over time noting how improvements in technology have been developed to make the clean ups more successful. The students study and use different chemicals to try and clean up oil from a container.

“We actually had one group of students who were able to get every drop of oil out from their container by using the right chemical combinations,” she said.

“I am very proud of the 30 girls who are in our “Girls Who Code” program,” she added. “All of these programs help students understand that with technology they can change the world. The students taking these courses are not necessarily the top students but students across the board. I think that offering classes such as these a typical student may find they like an area of study they never considered for a career.”

In other action at the board meeting, the board approved the addition of an elective course for the 2024-2025 school year in sports officiating.

“This course offers several benefits to students, both academically and personally,” said Aukerman. “It provides opportunity for leadership and responsibility, allowing students to enhance their communication skills and helping students learn how to handle conflict. Interested students will be provided with information on how to become certified to officiate games at the middle school level or beyond.” The board also accepted donations as follows:  to Granger Elementary from Box Tops for Education, $65.90; to high school boys golf from the Butcher family, $100; to the esports team/room from Dave and Erin Kennedy, $3,929.36 for supplies/materials; and to the Highland Local Schools from the Highland Athletic Facilities Association, $75,000 for the athletic complex.

Photo: Highland Middle School seventh-grade teacher Becky Watson reviews the Medical Detectives class, noting that students study how to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections. Photo by Chris Studor.