A Catholic, college-preparatory school, grades 7-12
Junior High Tradition & Innovation

Junior High Tradition & Innovation

February 22, 2017
    Tradition & Innovation at Home in the Junior High
By Claire Shea ’05, Junior High Principal  

When my family was touring schools in the metro area, we attended an open house at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Everyone gathered in the Great Hall and then-president Jim Hamburge stood in front of everyone, stretched out his arms and said, “Welcome to our family room!” Since graduating from and returning to BSM, I often think of this phrase and the feeling of home that our school exudes. As a former student of the junior high, I am amazed by how we continue to embrace traditional and nontraditional students as one large community. 

Screenshot_598.pngMy time as a junior high Red Knight consisted of two of the more awkward years of my life, to put it mildly, but I am grateful to have been provided with such a strong educational foundation. Teachers genuinely cared. I distinctly remember dissecting worms in Mr. Hartwick’s class, reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie in Mrs. Kemp’s class, and running the mile (which might as well have been a marathon to me) for Mrs. McLain. Who can forget junior high dances, spending a week at Wolf Ridge in negative 50 degree weather, or the intimidating 8th grade speech? BSM’s Junior High creates a place where students can be challenged yet comfortable. For me, these formative experiences of the junior high laid a foundation of individuality, leadership and community.

When I returned to BSM four years ago to teach in the senior high theology department, I was immediately reminded of what it means to come home to family. A testament to the mission and vision of BSM is that we retain faculty and staff dedicated to their vocation and to our school. We foster a community of professionals that accelerates the learning experience through innovative and transformational curriculum.

As a teacher in the senior high, where I still teach two sections of Morality, I am in constant collaboration with my peers to deliver a class filled with real world experiences and inventive projects. This occurs throughout our school. So when I stepped in as Junior High Principal last year, I was overwhelmed with pride as I experienced, all over again, the wonder of our junior high faculty. Many of the same teachers that taught me remain pillars of the junior high community today.

The teaching and learning have evolved, but the formative student experience is still at the foundation of the junior high. Fred Hennen joined BSM as a math teacher in 2001 and taught math in the traditional style of teaching concepts during class and assigning practice problems as homework. Fred quickly realized that his students encountered most of their troubles while working independently on homework away from the classroom. Therefore, he developed and taped an entire curriculum of videos explaining each chapter of math concepts for the year. Students would watch the instruction at home and come to class to work on practice problems where Fred could be there to answer questions and troubleshoot concepts. In educa - tion, we call this style a “flipped classroom” where students can use school time to work directly with a teacher. Fred’s innovative use of technology to teach math has inspired students to work at a more rigorous pace and accelerate in math curriculum as junior high students.

Dan Sylvester had just started as an English teacher when I was a student in junior high, and I can still remember how much I enjoyed his class. It was then that Dan and former social studies teacher James Cave started the idea of The American Experience (AE), a class in which students travel beyond the classroom to learn and live American history and literature. Co-taught, the class instantly became a transformational experience. This year, Dan and Josh Belanger, Learning Specialist and Junior High Teacher, will take students on a civil rights trip over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in January. Their class will fly into Memphis and follow the path MLK and other civil rights participants traveled through Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, and Atlanta. Trips like this one, combined with classroom preparation and context, make learning in the BSM Junior High dynamic and unforgettable.

Screenshot_596.pngThe BSM Junior High is developing students who use their education to understand the real world and make connections with the past in order to change the future. Susan Hinnendael began teaching junior high theology in 2003 and created a new class this year called Global Social Justice. Formerly co-taught and known as Genocide & Social Justice, Susan collaborated with teachers from other disciplines so that she could connect theology with broader issues around the globe. In the caring environment of the classroom, Red Knights are challenged to confront poverty, injustice, and other problems of the 21st century. With the help of English, science, and history teachers, students are thinking critically about issues such as genocide, racial tension in America, refugee experiences, and food scarcity in local communities, with a special focus on this year’s presidential election. Jesus calls us to be disciples, yet people often feel paralyzed in light of the many evils of the world. Susan is inspiring our junior high students to be servants of justice and peace and to find solutions to problems that seem unsolvable.

There are countless other examples of the great work happening in our 7th and 8th grade classrooms. As an alumna of the BSM Junior High, I have found it invaluable to return home to the place that was instrumental in my formation. Best of all, I came home to a school and a faculty that continues to imagine, innovate, and inspire, all to the benefit of our junior high students and our greater Red Knight community.

2501 Highway 100 South, St. Louis Park, MN 55416     952-927-4176