Altimira Middle School braces for ‘The Force Awakens’
A short time ago at a middle school not far away, a group of advanced English students appeared on campus bedecked in brown, tan, red and green robes, with hoods. The costumes were instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever seen “Star Wars,” as the uniform of the Jedi, protectors of the galaxy and masters of the all-powerful Force. All things considered, it wasn’t that strange of an occurrence, though it was particular well timed.
At Altimira Middle School, the real “force” of the moment is the level of sci-fi excitement two faculty members – both longtime “Star Wars” fans - have skillfully harnessed and transformed into a cleverly creative approach to learning, student outreach and overall campus morale-building. From the “Jedi English” class overseen by Bridget Pauls to the “Star Wars” adorned office of principal William Deeths, students at Altamira are well aware that the Force is with them.
The Jedi robes, part of a Jedi English project in which each student sewed their own garment and then was required to write an essay explaining everything that went wrong during the building process, is just one of many ways that “Star Wars” madness has invaded the current school year. The students of Pauls’ class were assigned “Star Wars” themed IDs at the beginning of the year – Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2, Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader, Boba Fett – and will soon be turning in reports giving detailed “historical” examinations of their characters.
“That’s the great thing about English,” she says. “As long as you are reading and writing, you can be reading and writing about anything.” Pauls says her students are learning as much about reading and writing as they would if they were assigned an essay on the fall of the Roman Empire. “Only in this case,” she says, “they are excited about it.”
“I’m giving them assignments to do over their vacation, and they aren’t even upset about it – because it’s ‘Star Wars,’” says Pauls.
Adding to all this interscholastic excitement, a large number of students, including many from outside the Jedi class - as a reward for academic excellence - will be attending a special private screening of the new “Star Wars” film, “The Force Awakens,” this Friday, at the Sonoma Cinemas.
Jedi robes, of course, are required apparel for the field trip, along with a business-style writing assignment.
“They all have to write a formal business letter to the manager of the theater,” says Pauls, clearly as energized as her students.
“Oh, I’m downright pumped,” says Pauls, who will be attending the screening, in her own hand-made Jedi robe, along with her students on Friday. “I’m not just excited about the movie,” she adds. “This whole Jedi English class has exceeded my expectations, and I’m so excited about what’s going on. The kids love it, and I love it. We’re making learning exciting.”
The class, which may be the first Jedi-themed middle school class in the nation, is also the first-ever accelerated English class for seventh graders at Altimira. The Jedi idea came about after Pauls, while planning the class, started referring to the advanced curriculum as being worthy of Jedi, and the idea took hold.
“When I asked Mr. Deeths if I could incorporate ‘Star Wars’ into the curriculum, he was totally on board,” she says. “Not only is he a ‘Star Wars’ fan, he allows teachers to be creative and weird.”