This Is Your Brain on Junior High: State Lege Gives UTD $6 Million to Study DISD Students

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It's a common scenario: an "A" elementary school student suddenly becomes a "C" middle-schooler. What happened? According to local brain health researchers, your child is suffering from information overload.

"He was so overwhelmed by the amount of information he was trying to stuff in," says Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. She's referring to one ninth-grader she encountered during her research earlier this year on one Dallas Independent School District campus.

With schools relying on standardized test scores almost exclusively to measure a student's aptitude, the focus of education is on memorizing content rather than learning strategy. Kids are cramming information rather than sorting through it to piece together the bigger picture. For a middle-schooler, this kind of educational system is a real hazard.

"Our brain is undergoing more change during the middle school years than any other time in our whole life," Chapman tells Unfair Park. "We've missed this window of cognitive development during middle school."

That's why the Texas Legislature has granted the Center for BrainHealth $6 million to study 2,000 middle-school students across North Texas over the next two years. There will be an official announcement tomorrow afternoon at E.B. Comstock Middle School, where researchers will begin training in the first middle school classroom.

The strategy and research pushed by Chapman and her team at the Center is based on results from a successful pilot program conducted last spring at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School. Fifty-four students participated in the "Middle School Brain Years" program that lasted four weeks. The Center researchers taught students to think strategically and uncover deeper meaning during 10 45-minute Strategic Memory and Reasoning Training (SMART) lessons.

The results?

After the month in training, all 54 students passed the reading portion of the TAKS. The students also showed a 30 percent improvement in reasoning scores, while their peers in other control groups did not improve.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Center will announce the grant and begin training. If the program is successful, SMART training programs may be permanently implemented in schools across Texas.

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