Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Baker Technical Institute Expands To The Middle School

Kristen Spaulding walks calmly through the flurry of activity in her fourth-period Baker Middle School classroom guiding students through computer-led, hands-on assignments.

The renovated space, which formerly housed the school's teachers lounge, is the new home of the middle school version of Baker Technical Institute.

Spaulding says teaching middle schoolers is a job she enjoys and finds she's well-suited for.

"It's not for the faint of heart, but I like it," she says as she guides a room filled with 30 students clamoring for her attention as the clock ticks off the 52 minutes they spend in the BTI classroom.

"I am the facilitator," Spaulding says. "My goal is to walk around, answer questions and help them where they need it."

The second-year BMS teacher is one of three who helps seventh- and eighth-graders navigate their way through the new program implemented this year.

Spaulding's other classroom is just down the hall where she spends the other five periods of her day teaching math.

Teachers Dave Frazey and Megan Alameda, who also instruct students enrolled in BTI programs at Baker High School, spend part of their day at the middle school as well.

Frazey takes over the self-contained middle school BTI classroom during fifth and sixth periods, and Alameda teaches another group of students during seventh period.

Last year Frazey was at BMS for three periods a day teaching building construction with students at a house in south Baker City purchased by the district specifically for that purpose.

Frazey is at the high school teaching BTI classes four periods this year, with the addition of a Construction II class, said Jerry Peacock, BTI director.

The district tentatively plans to sell the house at 310 Fourth St. that middle schoolers have worked on since 2007, said Doug Dalton, the district's chief executive officer. Proceeds from the sale would be used to upgrade supplies as needed to help sustain the middle school BTI program.

The new middle school classroom features 15 different stations on subjects ranging from robots, to home remodeling and aquaculture.

Students must remain focused in order to complete each daily assignment during the class period. They are led through the lessons while listening with headphones to instructions conveyed via laptop computers detailing the work required.

Even the students are impressed by the high-tech equipment and practical application of the lessons they're learning.

"It's just overall really cool," said seventh-grader Taylor Nudd.

Her partner at the station on robots, Clayton Dennis, agrees.

Dennis said he appreciates the advanced technology used in the learning modules, especially compared to what's available in other middle school classes.

Their teacher is as enthusiastic as her students.

"It's really exciting to see all this going on," Spaulding says. "The kids get really excited about it. It's nice to see them so engaged."

And for her, the lessons have a direct payoff because many of the BTI modules require students to use the skills Spaulding is teaching in her math classes.

"It's interesting to see (the students realize) 'Oh, hey, this is how math applies to real life,' " she said.

Two students are stationed at each of the 15 modules wedged into the BTI classroom on the second floor of the Helen M. Stack Building.

The middle school teachers, meanwhile, are using the former "Foods" room as a temporary lounge, said Chris Carmiencke, BMS principal.

It's a sacrifice, but one that's well worthwhile, he believes.

"It's a great opportunity for the kids," Carmiencke says of the BTI program.

Students will spend seven class days at each station before rotating to the next one.

The program is required of all seventh- and eighth-graders, and 240 of the school's 250-some students are signed up, Carmiencke said.

"We tried to make it for all kids," he said, adding that those who aren't enrolled couldn't be accommodated by the schedule or for other reasons.

The curriculum is provided by Pitsco Education and was paid for by an $87,000 Youth Development Council Youth and Innovation Grant through the Oregon Department of Education, BTI Director Peacock said.

He wrote the grant application along with another for $20,000 to the Oregon Community Foundation. The OCF grant also was awarded.

It paid to remodel the teachers' lounge, including the installation of the necessary electrical upgrades to accommodate the computer equipment, and the construction of storage space, Peacock said.

The new science, technology, engineering and math curriculum (known by the acronym STEM) is designed to take seventh-graders through all 15 modules by the end of their eighth-grade year, Carmiencke said. This year's eighth-graders will progress through half the program, but they will be able to continue with BTI at the high school level.

The sessions are paired with a computer class, to allow half of the students to be in the middle school BTI program this semester while their counterparts are in the computer classroom. They will switch places next semester, Carmiencke said.

Statewide, there is a big push in education to help students understand how what they're learning in school will apply to potential careers, the BMS principal said.

During their time in the middle school's BTI program, "they will create goals, explore future careers and it will give them a much stronger image of what their future career is going to be," Carmiencke said.

See more in Friday's issue of the Baker City Herald.