Step on up

Step Up Day - Students around table

By Middle School Counselors Maureen VanderKlippe and Kara Haines

The transition period from grade 5 to grade 6 is one that often holds a lot of worry for Elementary School students making their way into Middle School. Students will go from being the oldest, biggest, and most responsible in the school to being the “new kids” on the block. We know that a lot of stress is generated by the thought of moving from class to class, having six or seven different teachers each day, using a locker, and keeping up with the ever-growing workload. What if we’re late? What about detentions? What kind of sports can we play?

Counselors met with all grade 5 students in late April to begin answering questions and laying the foundation for success. We explained the daily schedule and the wide variety of activities that the children will have access to. Students often want to know if they will still be able to see their friends or if they will be spread out and separated for good. Luckily, the amount of movement in the Middle School day allows them to socialize even if they don’t have core classes together.

This year, we decided to give the grade 5 students a complete immersion experience in the hope of allaying some of those fears and adjusting their expectations for all the movement and responsibility required. Each grade 5 homeroom had their own day to spend with grade 6. During Step Up Day, they were spread out in small groups of two or three students per homeroom and paired up with a student buddy whom they shadowed for the entire school day.

Step Up Day - MS-HS Buddy Day

Other buddy days have included this one between Middle School and High School students

The fifth graders were able to experience a variety of core classes, special subjects, Enrichments and language classes. They met many of the teachers who will greet them on the first day of school next year. They practiced maneuvering through the hallways and opening lockers, they experienced 80-minute classes and got a chance to see some of the work that grade 6 students do.

We know that a highlight of the day was eating lunch in the Middle School Cafeteria, carrying their own lunch card, and being able to buy the lunch of their choice. Most importantly, the grade 6 buddies introduced the incoming students to the organizational systems that will help them to be successful in middle school. Teachers heard buddies explaining DX, our classroom management platform, and telling their new friends how to sign up for after-school activities.

We know that many pre-teenagers struggle with organization, and that this skill will be key to success in the years ahead. All Middle School students need a set schedule for the evenings, they need reminders of due-dates, they need to learn how to minimize distractions and do their work in small digestible chunks. Students need to be able to keep track of important dates for all of their classes and work on assignments that may be spread out over many days or even weeks. One of the skills that sixth graders will be steadily working towards all year is independence in their learning.

The feedback from grade 5 students on their Step Up Day buddy experience has been overwhelmingly positive. We feel like the day accomplished the ultimate goal, dispelling myths and alleviating fears about what Middle School will be like. The secondary benefits are that many grade 5 students made new friends, they connected with teachers and had such positive experiences in their classes and with their buddies that they are buzzing with excitement for next year. We intend to continue a full-day visit to Middle School for future years with the intent to surround incoming students with as much positive care and support as possible.

Student comments on Step Up Day:

“Thank you for organizing the amazing Step Up Day! I think it really helps us to understand what Middle School is like. What I am really nervous about is going from class to class. Will I be late? One thing I am really excited about is the things we will learn, the new stuff we will do.”

“My buddy helped me by letting me know what her next class was, so that I wouldn’t be lost in what she was doing when I arrived. I learned that my class was trying out iPads instead of computers. I also learned that you get a break of 10 to 15 minutes at 9:45 am. I am excited about Middle School because I get to choose my Enrichment and I get a break time, unlike in Elementary. I especially liked the design class, because I like creating things out of wood and my buddy showed a lot of cool tools that I’ve never seen.”

“Staying in Middle School for a day was an awesome experience. My buddy was very kind. I liked the Chinese class because we did many different fun activities. Science was also good because the teacher made jokes. Lunch was SO much better than ES. Different kinds of food, more choice. Thank you for such a great opportunity!”

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