Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI
WAYCROSS - Her brow furrowed in concentration, Tamara Ellis grappled with graphing a linear equation.
Her expression of concentration mirrored that of her classmates in teacher Darleen White's eighth-grade math class at Waycross Middle School on Wednesday.
White paused at each student's desk to check and guide their efforts. With the equation displayed on an interactive whiteboard, White enlisted the class to tackle the equation together.
She praised each student's effort and encouraged them to do the same for their classmates.
Tamara said she wouldn't give up on math.
"I'm going to keep at it. It won't get me down," she said.
Similar scenes played out in classrooms throughout the school: teachers working closely with students, who in turn worked with their classmates to learn lessons with skills that will carry over from one subject to another.
It's about building relationships based on respect, which fosters students' willingness to learn, especially those who might otherwise shy away from subjects they don't like, Principal Tim Dixon said.
"We get to know our students, treat them with respect and they respond to it. And then we teach them what they say they don't want to know," Dixon said.
Learning at Waycross Middle is a true community effort, he said, starting with teachers teaming up to teach and coordinate lessons at school and extending to parents providing support at home. It's paying off in a big way, he said.
"These children take the initiative to get help on their own if they need it. They are taking ownership of their education from those in the accelerated classes to those in remedial classes," Dixon said.
At least 300 students - half the school's enrollment - routinely and voluntarily come to school early to get extra help with their studies, he said.
The school's student achievement and teaching methods have led to statewide and nationwide recognition.
Waycross Middle recently was recognized as a Georgia Lighthouse School to Watch. It is among 200 middle schools nationwide and 15 in Georgia to earn the lighthouse designation, which honors high-performing middle schools.
There are about 430 public middle schools, state records show. Hahira Middle School in Lowndes County is the only other South Georgia school to receive the recognition.
Georgia is one of 19 states in the National Forum Schools to Watch program. The program identifies middle schools for academic excellence, student achievement, teacher leadership and development, and the educational opportunities they provide to students. …