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Middle school matters: Arbutus Middle School


In honor of national Middle Level Education Month, this March we are taking a closer look at Baltimore County Public Schools’ wonderful middle schools. Every day during March, one or two more school profiles will be posted. To see all that have been posted, please click here.

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Principal: Michelle Feeney (quoted below)
Feeder elementary schools: Arbutus, Catonsville, Halethorpe, Hillcrest, Relay, and Westowne

School website:

Academic achievements

The school has far exceeded its School Progress Plan goals this year on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests in math and reading.

AMS has increased the number and diversity of students enrolled in advanced academics classes by 20% over the last three years.

Recent awards and grants

The school has received grants from the Education Foundation of BCPS, the Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Teachers at the school are active grant writers. This year, the school has raised $10,000 through grants.”

Last year, the Grade 6 team won the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce Award for Excellence for Teams that Make a Difference. The year before Michael Guarraia won in the teacher category.

The school was named a Maryland Green School four years ago and continues to maintain its Green School status.

S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) teacher Shannon Johnson has been named one of the six finalists for the 2016-2017 BCPS Teacher of Year Award.

On February 27, approximately 45 students in Grades 7 and 8 performed in small ensembles and/ or as solos at the Baltimore County Solo and Ensemble Festival. They all received ratings of either Superior or Excellent.

Based on their high ratings, AMS bands and orchestras have qualified to participate in the State Music Festival for the last five years.

Special academic programs offered

New to the school this year is the Gateway to Technology engineering course. This course is offered to all grade levels and helps student prepare for Project Lead the Way in high school.

Arbutus is part of a six-school pilot for the Effective Learning Habits for College and Career Readiness. The course was designed by school counselors, teachers, and school leaders and is meant to prepare students for the transition from elementary to middle school expectations and help them with skills such as studying, problem solving, and collaboration.

World Languages is offered to all grade levels.  Students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 have the opportunity to study Chinese or Spanish at AMS.

Student leadership

Working with the Office of Safe Schools, this year, Arbutus has established a crew of student ambassadors. These students attended two full days of training with staff to learn various problem resolution techniques. The students and staff who took the training meet monthly to review potential problems they see and to brainstorm how to solve them.  With this and other school initiatives, the school “has seen a huge decrease in office referrals and suspensions.”

Popular/unique extracurricular activities

Before students participate in the twice-a-week afterschool activities program, they receive a full supper, funded by a grant. A bus, funded by the PTA, delivers the students home. 

“The school’s science department chairperson, a former engineer and Lockheed Martin employee, coordinates a Kinetic Sculpture Club. Arbutus is the only middle school that participates in the annual Baltimore event which challenges teams to design and build a human-powered vehicle that can travel on land, in the water, and through mud. The Arbutus team has participated every year since 2012.”

“This same teacher also started the Eagle’s Workshop. Students have built a trebuchet to chuck pumpkins and hosted a neighborhood pumpkin chucking event. The students also use design and problem-solving strategies to build items that range from repurposing old microscopes to designing and making math manipulatives on a 3-D printer.”

“The school has a strong partnership with UMBC – which is just across the street from us.  We mentor many student interns and have hired some outstanding new teachers from this partnership.  Additionally, students from UMBC’s Shriver Center, come over twice a week to tutor and mentor students in the Arbutus Achievers program.” 

“Two teachers run a strategy club, started by a former AMS student. Participating students learn critical thinking skills that transfer to their academic growth.”

Special school traditions

The school hosts a quarterly Straight A Breakfast for students and their families.

“Every spring we invite all incoming Grade 5 students to spend a day at AMS.  They tour the school and talk to AMS students about life in middle school.”

At the end of the year, Grade 8 students go on a cruise and visit Dave and Buster’s. 

Grade 6 students spend a week at North Bay Adventure Camp. “It really helps solidify them as a team.”

Grade 7 students participate in an annual “college week,” which includes students spending a day at UMBC.

The school’s PTA sponsors Grade 8 students traveling to Pennsylvania to participate in the Hershey Music Competition.

Bet you didn’t know…

That “several amazing Arbutus Middle staff members actually went to school here when the school was Arbutus Junior High School.  We are a strong community school that is steeped in traditions that last through changing administrations.”

That two years ago, “a UMBC student shadowed the kinetic sculpture club all year and made a documentary that showed the entire process of the club members designing, building, and racing their kinetic sculpture. The finished documentary was shown at a downtown Arbutus theater and the entire community came out to watch it.”



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