A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

H. Case Study Summaries

8. Harold Wiggs Middle School

Wiggs Middle School provided an exciting learning environment for all of its students, supported by its organizational structure, which divides the schools into families, and its emphasis on professional development. As the first middle school the El Paso Independent School District, and one of the first in the state, Wiggs had been at the forefront of the statewide movement towards implementing the middle school model since it opened in 1987. Wiggs teachers made use of innovative pedagogical strategies within an intensive Sheltered English program for newcomer LEP students. The impetus for the development of a middle school came from the district and the state, while support for the implementation of many of the pedagogical and organizational innovations came from the School of Education at the nearby University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Innovative elements of the school's instruction and organization are discussed below.

Innovative Curriculum and Instructional Strategies

Cooperative learning strategies were prevalent throughout the school both in classes for newcomers and in mainstream classes. Teachers of newcomer LEP students helped their students master cooperative strategies and students quickly became effective cooperative learners. Wiggs staff also designed themes around which the whole school planned activities. Individual families also planned thematic units. Often themes were linked to project-based activities in which students worked in cooperative groups. In collaboration with UTEP, Wiggs staff had implemented an innovative mathematics curriculum and integrated technology into instruction.

Wiggs at a Glance

Location--El Paso, TX
Grade Levels--6-8
Number of Students--1000
% LEP Students--28%
LEP Student Language Diversity--100% Spanish
LEP Student Program--Sheltered English
% Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch--73%

Professional development activities at Wiggs were based on a schoolwide needs assessment. Training was conceived as long-term and integral to the school's vision, rather than a series of isolated, individual events. For example, Wiggs established a relationship with UTEP which allowed Wiggs teachers to participate in a Mathematics Institute that has helped restructure the school's mathematics curriculum; teachers who participated in off-site staff development activities returned to share their training with fellow teachers. Much of the in-school training in recent years had focused on implementing the middle-school concept, including effective use of student advisories, developing interdisciplinary units, and alternative assessment measures. Other target areas included multicultural education and language development.

As part of a technology grant to UTEP, twelve Wiggs teachers, designated as clinical technology teachers, received training in innovative instructional uses of computers. The teachers were assigned student teachers trained in instructional uses of technology, and their classrooms were equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Program for LEP Students

Wiggs, located in El Paso on the Mexican border, accommodated a constant influx of students from Mexico, most of whom arrived at Wiggs literate in Spanish with consistent previous schooling. In order to incorporate the newcomers, the school employed a Language Acquisition for the Middle School Program (LAMP) which consisted of Sheltered English instruction with an intensive ESL component for newcomer LEP students. The program was supplemented by Spanish language arts classes and implemented by teachers who were certified in ESL and their content area. Most of the teachers in the program were fluent in Spanish, the native language of their students. LAMP classes were smaller than regular classes, averaging between 14 and 15 students per class; teachers could therefore provide intensive instruction to LEP students and monitor individual students' progress.

Using the flexibility conferred by site-based governance, the faculty at Wiggs designed a school-within-a-school structure, creating a series of units or "families" at each grade level. The LAMP program for LEP was housed in two families--one for beginning students and the other for intermediate students. Students in the LAMP families spanned the three grade levels at the school. The flexible structure allowed staff to move a student from the beginning LAMP family to the intermediate LAMP family when he or she was ready, as well as to accommodate newcomers arriving throughout the year. Students remained in LAMP classes only as long as it took to prepare them to succeed in the mainstream instructional environment; once students were ready, they were assigned to one of the mainstream families at the school. Staff worked to keep students at grade level while they acquired English.

School Structure

Wiggs staff had envisioned a middle school divided into families that would allow students opportunities for instructional contact with a small number of faculty who could develop instructional activities and teach in ways that were appropriate to the students' stage of development. There were two families at each grade level, as well as two additional LAMP families.

The five teachers from each family met on a daily basis to discuss various topics, including plans for collective activities, problems with and rewards for individual students, and schoolwide activities. Teachers had in-depth knowledge of their students, the students' school progress, and the students' family situations; their knowledge made them alert to signs of problems in any arena. Faculty, parents and students worked together to address students' needs.

Teachers at Wiggs had an individual period each day that they used for conferences or for preparation, while students had seven academic periods, a homeroom period, and an advisory period. The last period of the day was the advisory period for all students in the school. Advisories were smaller than the regular classes--some groups were as small as nine students. Teachers used the time to get to know their students, follow up on changes of behavior in school, and work with them on individual problems with teachers, their fellow students, or issues outside the school.

Wiggs had implemented site-based management, supported by Texas' new accountability system. The school-level governing body, the Campus Improvement Committee, was composed of representatives of the faculty, staff, parents, and the community. It was responsible for preparing a yearly Campus Improvement Plan and making decisions on the school's discretionary budget, school policies and activities, partnerships with the community, and strategies for involving parents and community members as partners in the school.

Wiggs was a state-designated Mentor School. In this capacity, it served as a laboratory for other schools, especially those wanting to implement the middle-school concept. Wiggs' mentor teachers participated in site-level training as well as professional development activities offered by the district and by the UTEP.


Wiggs Middle School designed a strong program for LEP students by employing innovative pedagogical strategies such as cooperative learning, project-based and thematic instruction, and integrated use of technology. The flexible program for LEP students and the implementation of the middle-school structure with smaller school units supported students' individual social and academic development. Finally, faculty participation in site-level decision making and ongoing professional development activities significantly contributed to the school's ability to move toward its vision.
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