Students entering the eighth grade next year at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria have three more elective classes to choose from. The classes - promotions and propaganda, lifetime fitness and wellness, and literature through stage and film - were approved at the Jan. 28 school board meeting.

"We wanted more options for our eighth-graders," said Rick Sansted, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for the district. "Options that would align with our academies at the high school."

At the middle school level, the district is not at a point of removing or deleting any courses, said Sansted, but instead are wanting to add more choices for its students.

Two of three classes came out of an initiative, Fishing for Ideas, from the staff at the middle school. They interviewed students to find out their interests and what types of classes they would be interested in.

"Kudos to the teaching staff for their ideas," said Sansted. "The nine-week courses will now be precursors to the high school academies."

Here's brief synopsis of each of the new classes:

• Promotions and propaganda - students will dive into the world of advertising and learn how promotion and propaganda have shaped the world they live in. They will learn what strategies businesses use to entice customers to buy products. They will learn about the secret meanings and messages behind the logos, print ads and commercials they see everyday and will explore their own powers of persuasion while creating hands-on projects and advertising campaigns.

• Lifetime fitness and wellness - this class will provide students with a mixture of lifetime physical fitness activities, as well as engage them in personal wellness exercises to develop and maintain a healthy well-being. Throughout the course, students will participate in a variety of activities, such as yoga, stress management, zumba, aerobics, strength training, aquatics, pilates, Tai Chi and more.

• Literature through stage and film - through reading scripts and watching films, students will analyze elements of literature such as character, symbolism and theme. Students will also perform plays and create scripts and films that show their understanding of the elements.

Mid-year update

Sansted also provided a mid-year update on the district's strategic plan at the Jan. 28 school board meeting. The eight-page update included several goals, but the main goal shared across the entire district is improving student achievement, he said. The district maintains their focus on learning through being personal, comprehensive and responsive.

Some of the other goals are as follows:

• Making sure all children are ready for school by focusing on early childhood screening, engaging parents, focusing on pre-literacy and numeracy through play, and partnerships with early childhood initiatives.

• Making sure all third graders can read at grade level by using goal setting, professional development and coaching for teachers and engaging parents.

• Making sure all racial and economic achievement gaps are decreased by increasing the mentor program, refining the college for every student program, maximizing the equity and inclusion specialist, maximizing American Indian resources, and engaging parents in academic and behavior planning.

• Making sure all students are ready for college and career by implementing student portfolios, increasing college credit options, increasing student voice in planning and decision making, and promoting a culture of innovation.

• Making sure all students graduate from high school by matching at-risk students with community mentors, refining and implementing "College for Every Student," and working on an attendance improvement plan.