Raven's punter Sam Koch speaks to sixth-graders at East Middle School in Westminster Tuesday.
Raven's punter Sam Koch speaks to sixth-graders at East Middle School in Westminster Tuesday. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

With the Maryland School Assessment just one week away, the East Middle School staff wanted to give their students a pep talk.

They had a Baltimore Ravens player do the honors.

Punter Sam Koch, of Westminster, spoke to East Middle students in the school's gymnasium Tuesday. Koch's son is a seventh-grader at East Middle.

The MSAs are reading and math achievement tests given each year in March in third through eighth grades. The tests include multiple-choice and written response questions.

Students take the tests for approximately 90 minutes each day with four total days of testing. The assessments will be administered next week.

Each school approaches the days before the tests differently. After weeks of practice and preparation, East Middle students got a bit of a break Tuesday.

Koch shared how hard work and practice led him from the tiny town of Seward, Neb., to the National Football League. The former University of Nebraska punter owns the Ravens franchise record in punts, career gross average and punts placed inside the 20-yard line.

After discussing his life as a professional football player, Koch told the students that what they have learned in school will help them do well.

"You have been put in the best possible position," he said. "There is no need for anxiety, there is no need to be nervous, scared or anything. When you go into it, you know you'll be just fine."

Reassuring elementary school students taking the MSA for the first time is vital, Manchester Elementary School assistant principal Whitney Warner said. Third-graders must learn how to properly fill out the bubbles in test answer sheets.

Otherwise, teachers encourage students to get enough rest and eat breakfast before the test and not worry about the process.

"We try not to stress them out," she said. "We tell the kids, 'it's what you do every day and what you are learning every day.'"

The class schedule changes somewhat to accommodate testing, Warner said. Some youths have said they actually like the change of pace.

New Windsor Middle School students are likely to have less homework than in a traditional week so students can remain focused on the test, principal Erin Brilhart said. Students there have been doing weekly practices where they are placed in their testing groups.

He said middle school students are used to the process.

"By the time they get here," he said, "they know what they are doing."

East Middle School eighth-graders Sydney Jones and Taylor Remme said they have been practicing in school recently for the assessments.

Sydney said the East Middle staff has been trying to get the students to relax, which was evident when three male teachers dressed like rappers threw T-shirts into the crowd during the assembly. Instructors Grant Disharoon, David Andrews and Michael Stencil, who called themselves the Eastie Boys, created a rap video to promote taking the test.

No matter what career the students are planning to enter, what they have learned prepping for the state exams is vital, East Middle School principal Christian Roemer said.

"The skills and talents that will help them in doing well on the MSA are the same skills, talents and attitudes that will help them be successful in life," he said.