Denair Middle School principal, teachers and students share stories and strategies about success 

Denair Middle School Principal Gabriela Sarmiento used a humorous quote she discovered online to describe what it’s like to be on a campus full of often unpredictable sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

“Middle school is that awkward grade level where your students are way too cool for everything but they also want to know if their mom can being cupcakes for their birthday,” she told Denair Unified School District board trustees Thursday night during a lively presentation on DMS.

Pre-teen and adolescent emotions aside, middle school also is an important time academically. It represents a crossroads for students — the first time many of them must juggle multiple instructors for different subjects after typically being with a single teacher all day in elementary school. Middle school also is where students form effective study habits that will carry them through high school and into college. It may even be a chance to begin to explore and consider career pathways that could shape their futures for years to come.

DMS certainly is poised to help with all of that and more, Sarmiento emphasized. She was joined in her presentation by six of her students and two of her teachers — Gabrielle Bennett, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade English language arts, and first-year Spanish instructor Edith Orozco.

The middle school’s mission is to “provide a personalized learning experience for our students where relationships are our focus” and all students are empowered “through exemplary instruction and innovative programs.” DMS prides itself on creating a culture of inclusion and positivity that inspires students to want to come to school each day.

One of the things that sets DMS apart from other middle schools is its Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program, an extension of what is offered at Denair Elementary Charter Academy in which students are taught in English and Spanish throughout the day. 

Orozco talked about empowering students to embrace their bilingual skills. They watch videos together about different cultures in Spanish-speaking countries. They create presentations on various topics. Each day, there is plenty of verbal interaction, intended to help students expand their academic vocabulary in Spanish.

“It’s my job to make them feel they’ve got this,” Orozco explained.

Bennett shared some of her classroom strategies in English via two videos that showed students participating in mock trials and debates. The mock trials were used to bring to life a situation featured in a novel the students were reading. Debates are another way to help students sharpen their skills in areas like reasoning and critical thinking, research, verbal ability and collaboration.

“They had fun and retained more information,” Bennett said.

The leadership students participated in live interviews conducted by Zane Simbalenko and Victor Sarmiento (whose mom is the principal) about life on the DMS campus. Students interviewed were sixth-grader Kamelia Zamora, seventh-graders Alexa Camacho and Ezequiel Silva, and eighth-grader Shayla Zamora.

DMS also affords students a full range of academic and extracurricular activities, including before and after school tutoring, leadership and student council, sports, World Languages Club, Academic Pentathlon, Coyote Cultivators, creative games, JvPHAST Club, NAMI Club, ROX Club, band, AVID and ag.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Formally removed the “interim” titles for two principals – Breanne Aguiar at Denair High School and Laura Cardenas at Denair Elementary Charter Academy.
  • Unanimously approved the addition of three new classes at Denair High over the next two years. The first two are part of the arts, media and entertainment Career Technical Education pathway. Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, students can sign up for digital art/photography and graphic design. The following year, an elective course in marketing and entrepreneurship will be added.
  • Approved a trip for 16 students and their teachers to the California State FFA Leadership Conference scheduled March 15-19 in Ontario.
  • Passed school safety and COVID plans, which are required to be updated annually.
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