Trailblazing Fifth Graders Are Now Seniors

District restructuring presented new world language and music opportunities

By Kayla Lemens, Editor in Chief

Eight years ago, the class of 2022 entered Silverbrook Intermediate School as the first fifth grade class in the building.

When Barton Elementary School was closed in 2014, the West Bend School District was restructured. Students must now enter four buildings on their journey through the district, starting with the elementary schools that separate students by geography. Then all students in grades 5-6 attend Silverbrook Intermediate School, followed by two years at Badger Middle School. The final transition is to the shared campus of West Bend East and West High Schools.

Before the restructuring, students attended either Silverbrook or Badger for grades 6-8.

That first group of fifth-graders are now high school seniors preparing to graduate in June. They will leave the district knowing that the long-ago restructuring gave them the opportunity to participate in language and music programs longer than any previous students.

Due to the earlier integration of music and language, students are developing stronger skills in those areas than the years prior.

East senior Lauren McCormack is about to finish her eighth year of French and feels that those bonus years have been valuable.

“After learning most of the vocabulary and verb tenses at Silverbrook and at Badger, it has just been an expansion and revisit of things I’ve learned,” McCormack said. “So we not only have been practicing for several years to refine our skills in grammar, but also have been able to learn other things like the culture and slang and other things that make the language more than a language, which is really engaging and not something you would be able to achieve with only four years in a language class.” 

Christi Fischer has been a French teacher at the high schools for the last 32 years and says the change has had a positive ripple effect.

“I noticed a marked improvement over previous years, especially in the areas of listening comprehension and speaking, Fischer said.

In addition, starting earlier was able to push the language programs into higher levels.

“A big advantage is that we now have two years to prep for the AP exam,” Fischer said. “Since we learned the test format and how to use AP Classroom last year, I can spend less time teaching the test format and more time focusing on fine details of the test.  This should help improve scores for this year’s seniors.”

Last year’s class was unable to receive this advantage, but going forward, language classes will extend to level 6 rather than level 5.

Unfortunately, these advantages are sometimes being overlooked. A high number of district students choose to drop world language before reaching high school. 

At Silverbrook, world language and music is required, but at Badger, students receive different options. 

“Naturally, there is logic to it,” Badger principal Dave Uelmen said. “When they are given an option, they will choose something apart from what (was) required.”

Since eighth grade world language can count as a high school credit, many students may consider dropping after their ninth grade year (level 3) as they will have completed the two years of a foreign language required by some colleges.

“Dropping world language is a bad decision,” Fischer said. “Although there are some universities which do require two years of a language in order to apply to their school, more and more colleges are looking for four high school years of a language in their applicants.”

East senior Lauren McCormack in French class. Photo by Kayla Lemens, Editor in Chief.

All Wisconsin public colleges and most private colleges will allow students to test out of these requirements as part of their application process. To do this students often need to stay in their language class through their senior year in order to do well on the placement test which proves they learned enough to test out.

In addition, nearly all colleges accept Advanced Placement credit which students can earn in their senior year of a language.  

Currently, 10 students are enrolled in the keystone French class (level 6). These 10 students are the first students to receive the highest level of French ever taught at WBHS.

While music classes are every other day at Silverbrook, they switch to every day at Badger. Since students are receiving such opportunities earlier, the performing arts program is improving across all levels.

“Being able to play orchestra music at an early age really helped me prosper and grow,” said East senior Kyrsten Sulok, who plans to study viola performance after graduation.

Seth Matuszak, the West Bend High Schools orchestra teacher since 2015, has noticed slight changes as the years have gone by.

“I believe the real success of a music program doesn’t necessarily revolve around what the students’ abilities are compared to other years, but instead how students are resilient, deal with adversity, and the positive energy and attitude they bring to their music class,” Matuszak said. “Having that type of culture and mindset is how we improve and move forward.”

Fortunately, the orchestra department did not see a large decrease in the number of students like other programs.

“I’m quite pleased with the number of freshmen who continued this year despite the fact I was not able to go and ‘recruit’ at Badger last year,” said Matuszak, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think that speaks volumes regarding the program, the teachers, and the dedicated students who want to continue learning music.”

West senior Megan Guenther says that she appreciates everything the orchestra program has done for her.

“It’s a class I’ve enjoyed coming to every day, and I appreciate how much I’ve improved over the years,” Guenther said. “It’s also taught me how to manage my time, and make me an overall better student.”

Uelmen has been with the district for 27 years, working at both Badger and the high schools. He remembers how things were before the district was restructured.

“Our performance arts are just amazing now,” Uelmen said. “I’m so proud of everything they are accomplishing.”

Uelmen also acknowledged that there are advantages and disadvantages in the way Silverbrook and Badger are currently aligned.

“We (now) only get to have the kids for two years (at Badger), the minute you get to know them, they are gone,” Uelmen said. “On the other hand, starting these kids together as a class (at Silverbrook) builds a sense of community through being together for four years before starting high school.”

(Top image: West senior Megan Guenther practices the cello. Photo by Kayla Lemens, Editor in Chief.)

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