Hayden One narrow hallway is all that divides the middle and high schools in Hayden.
But the differences between the students who attend class on either side of that hallway are substantial, Hayden Middle School Principal Colleen Poole said.
Eight years ago, middle school staff in the district began researching how best to smooth students' three-year transition from elementary school to high school.
"We wanted to move to a real middle school," Poole said.
Numerous workshops, conferences and seminars later, the middle school emerged with a strategy to implement flexible scheduling.
Steamboat Springs Middle School recently decided to pursue flexible scheduling next school year.
But people who want to see the concept in practice now need to look no further than the classrooms of Hayden Middle School, where flexible scheduling has been in practice for four years.
Flexible scheduling at Hayden allows teachers to work as a team and determine how they want to break up the core academic time, which runs from 8 to 11 a.m. and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., for lessons and projects.
A lunch period and classes such as physical education, music and art fill the remaining hours.
Seventh-grade teachers Phylis Jensen and Linda Wilson work together to integrate their subject matter so they have longer periods of time to lead their students through science projects and writing assignments.
The additional time allows Wilson, who teaches math and science, to correlate her lesson plans with Jensen, who teaches language arts and geography.
The pair works together to come up with assignments that reinforce concepts the other is teaching.
"Since we adopted this (flexible scheduling), we don't do things in a vacuum," Wilson said.
Their students benefit from seeing the same principles taught in different subject areas, she said.
Jensen may base her writing assignments on concepts the students learned from Wilson in math and science.
"We consult together so they see it in both places," Jensen said.
The arrival of flexible scheduling at Hayden Middle School forced Jensen and Wilson to be flexible and take a new approach to teaching. But the change, they said, benefits not only the students but also the staff. The teachers appreciate the freedom to spend as much time as they need in a particular subject area.
When eighth-grade math and science teacher Greg Richards fell behind his lesson plans before the middle school implemented flexible scheduling, he had few opportunities to make up the time.
Now Richards lets English teacher Amy Pounds know he needs an extra hour or two to catch up.
"The flexibility is what I really like," he said.
Richards said he values the opportunity to collaborate on lesson plans with Pounds.
The eighth-graders are currently writing a paper on chronic wasting disease under Pounds' supervision while they learn about the more scientific aspects of the disease with Richards.
"We can do a lot of interdisciplinary work," he said.
Teachers at Hayden Middle School agree flexible scheduling promotes more one-on-one time with their students.
Rather than moving on to another subject at the end of a 45-minute period, teachers can address students' questions and offer additional help to those who might not have grasped the lesson.
"A longer block of time allows for more exploring," Jensen said.
Labs or reading assignments that require longer blocks of time do not pose a problem when staff have the freedom to extend a science or English period.
Ample opportunity exists for the two-teacher teams in each grade to jointly assess their students' performance and share ideas on how to best help their young charges reach their potential.
"We can really say we know our students," Wilson said.
Flexible scheduling ensures teachers can offer their students mini-electives, such as foreign languages or drama.
Block scheduling ensures students have fewer teachers to deal with.
"We try to get them ready for high school by providing an atmosphere where there are challenges," Wilson said. "But we recognize that they are not yet high school students. They are not developmentally ready for that.
"They've never learned to multitask as they have in seventh grade," Wilson said.
With the old schedule, they said, students would just begin something and have to quit.
As the state requires districts to cover more material, this gives them a chance to do just that.
"It comes back to 'how can we best meet the needs of the kids?'" Wilson said.
Wilson said the results have been showing from students who went through flexible scheduling and are now in high school.
"Ninth-graders this year are independent learners," she said.
They are well prepared to handle high school curriculum.
"It's the time when they take responsibility for their own learning," Jensen said of sixth-graders beginning middle school.
"We give them basic skills to be independent lifelong learners," she said.
Poole said the process began eight years ago. She and her staff want to give students all preparation they need for high school, she said.
The school's proximity to the high school makes it hard for students not to be aware of their older peers, she said.
But the school wants the middle schoolers to be proud of themselves, so that when they do make it to high school, they have self-confidence. The school wants to give them all the tools they need to be successful.
Poole credits the commitment of her staff to making flexible scheduling successful at Hayden Middle School.
The teachers don't always get the credit they deserve, she said.
Above the entrance to Hayden Middle School hangs a sign that welcomes visitors to a "community of learners."
Thanks to them, Poole said, the middle school will continue to do just that.