Making the Transition to Middle School

Posted on July 31st, 2019 by tduver

A crucial part of any successful middle school experience is a positive transition from Lower School.  Beginning anything new can be anxiety provoking for newbie middle school students, and unfortunately, a positive mind-set is challenging for our budding middle school students. They often are consumed with questions and fears around homework, bathroom locations, lockers, new teachers, and new expectations before the year even begins. Without a thoughtful and supportive transition experience, these fears will extend beyond the “honeymoon” period of middle school.

For students at Allendale Columbia, our focus has always been around 3 key points when it comes to welcoming and supporting our new 6th graders:

  • Help our students develop a realistic and pragmatic expectation of what middle school will be like
  • Provide a positive and successful first impression of their peers, schedule, school community, and teachers to support their role as decision makers and community builders
  • Ensure a successful introduction to the middle school experience from day one, through meaningful and targeted coursework to support their unique perspective

The schedule and program of the entire 6th grade year is built around the concept of this transition, as we believe it extends far beyond the first few weeks of school.

Here are some programmatic pieces specific to the AC 6th grade experience:


Research shows that Middle School students benefit from specific and targeted opportunities to learn about self-advocacy. The days of study halls in which students sit passively awaiting the end of the period are over, and we are pushing to create opportunities for students and teachers to actively engage together to help students better understand both themselves as learners and the content they are learning about.

Given this, Allendale Columbia has created a year-long block of time called “Advocacy” for our 6th grade students. It is targeted time during the school day when students have access to teachers and advisors for help. Managed by our Upper and Middle School Learning Advocate, Seth Hopkins, 6th grade students have advocacy anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes at the end of each day with their teachers. This includes opportunities to access our shared Middle School and Upper School writing lab, as well as connect with teachers from whom they need help. Middle School students are supported to be actively engaged in managing their time and will work in their advisories to build the organizational and advocacy skills to help them manage this time effectively.


The theme of the 6th grade year in advisory is ”independence.” Middle School is a perfect time to introduce topics of independence as students transition from Lower School to Middle School. Advisory is more than just a time during the day where a 6th grader meets with a group of fellow 6th graders and an advisor. At AC, advisory is a mindset. It’s a group where a student can take risks questioning things, expressing themselves, and pushing back on things at are confusing or troubling. Self-advocacy, accountability, and individuality are key parts of the 6th grade advisory program, and faculty advisors support these themes among a small cohort of students.

Advisory also aims to provide all 6th grade students with an adult advocate who thinks about them holistically. An advisor serves as both their “home base” teacher helping them navigate the logistics of Middle School, as well as an academic and personal advisor who actively teaches self-advocacy, executive functioning, and communication skills. Advisors are also a 411 service for parents. Parents can call their child’s advisor for anything, and often an advisor is a great first phone call or email if parents have questions or concerns regarding anything school related. 

What Middle School Values

Taught by our Upper and Middle School learning advocate, Seth Hopkins, this course is taken by every 6th grader in the fall semester. What Middle School Values asks 6th graders to explore Allendale Columbia’s Core Values as they work to understand and individualize the Middle School context. During the time in the class, each student will increase their understanding of themselves as an individual learner and identify and tailor learning strategies that promote their own success.  Here, 6th graders explore the importance of resilience and curiosity as they leverage their individual and collective creativity in solving Middle School problems at the individual and community level. Building on the sense of community, they participate in activities and conversations that deepen the robust connections they have already made with their classmates, as well as begin to build these relationships with new classmates just starting out at AC. Through  selected readings from Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and using George Doran’s S.M.A.R.T criteria, 6th graders gain a sense of ownership and power throughout their transition, easing their anxiety. 

Digital Literacy 

One of the goals of our 6th grade program is to develop students who are digitally literate and able to navigate within digital environments using various devices, while also evaluating, managing, and communicating information efficiently and ethically. In this course, students engage in a variety of projects, both collaborative and individual, which are designed to promote growth in the areas known as the 5 Cs: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Citizenship and Personal Growth. In a safe environment, 6th graders become adept Chromebook users as they experience the powerful possibilities of the digital world while learning the ethics and responsibilities necessary to find success in any discipline. This course, taken in the fall of their 6th grade year, helps to build a solid foundation of digital confidence, while honing in on clear expectations around technology usage and ethical decision making.


Although not a programmatic piece, one of the most important times of the day can be one of the most stressful. For new 6th graders, knowing where to sit, what to talk about, and the culture of sitting down for a meal can cause great anxiety. Fortunately, AC lunches are more about community and sharing than just a quick break of eating before the next class.

As a middle school, students are assigned seats with a faculty member at every table, which rotates throughout the year.  It’s not uncommon to hear lunch room banter from table to table about their favorite movies, yesterday’s sports events, music, and even themed table trivia contests. With the spirit of inclusion, 6th grade students feel part of the community from the very first day, and lunch becomes a time to relax, eat, and celebrate a morning of hard work.  

Tina Duver

Tina Duver

At Allendale Columbia, Tina serves as the Head of Middle School. She has taught Science and Leadership at AC for over 20 years. She also served as Assistant Head of the Middle School and Dean of Students. Tina earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in Environmental Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She brings her natural curiosity, energy, and excitement to education. Tina is also a die-hard Red Sox fan.
Posted in: Middle School, Sixth Grade

You Never Know What Seeds are Planted During May Term

Posted on June 6th, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

By Judy Van Alstyne ’88, Head Librarian

You never know what kinds of seeds are planted during May Term. Four years ago, Tony Tepedino and I offered a Middle School May Term called Getting Schooled the Minecraft Way. At that time, Mojang still owned Minecraft; MinecraftEDU was a separate installable modification (mod) which allowed teachers to host servers specifically for their students to engage in Minecraft activities designed for learning all kinds of concepts.

Garrett Wilson, Ethan Truong, Carter Previte, and Ben Smoker work on Minecraft during AC May Term 2015.

We had high expectations for the ten Middle School boys who signed up. They weren’t going to be students in a Minecraft activity designed by us grown-ups; they were going to have Lower School teachers as clients, designing educational activities for students in grades two, four, and five. For the second grade class, four boys (Dylan Reece, Ben Smoker, Jack Wheeler, and Garrett Wilson) designed “U.S. Landmarks” to teach about symbols of the United States. For the fourth graders, three boys (Marlin Bassett, Henry Grasman, and Cameron Perry) designed “Bomber Math” for practice in calculating area. For the fifth graders, three boys (Caden Kacprzynski, Peter Klem, and Kasi Natarajan) created “Island Adventure” to teach geometry, measurement, and economy. The boys worked hard and had fun, and when we concluded by inviting the Lower School students in, everyone had fun playing and learning. It was a success that we were sad to end.

Jonathan Ragan tries his hand at a Minecraft May Term in 20115.

But this past week, the Rumsey Library was alive again with students (this time in Upper School) busily playing and creating with Minecraft thanks to two of those former Middle School students, Caden Kacprzynski ‘20 and Cameron Perry ‘20, running a student-led May Term titled Experimenting with Architecture and Code in Minecraft: Education Edition. Now computer experts, they explained to me much that has changed in the Minecraft education world. Mojang was bought by Microsoft, which created a new product for teachers called Minecraft: Education Edition. Caden and Cameron explained how much easier it is (no need to create a local server, for example) and it has a coding curriculum already built in (in conjunction with Learning how to code has the immediate benefit of allowing users to create more efficiently and with enhanced functions, for example, building a wall with one command rather than placing each block individually. There are also more possibilities for saving work to be shared with others in the future.

Cameron Perry ’20 and Caden Kacprzynski ’20 lead a student-led May Term titled “Experimenting with Architecture and Code in Minecraft: Education Edition.”

Caden and Cameron decided that for their May Term, they would keep the parameters somewhat loose, requiring only that students work solo or in groups to create worlds for others to play and explore, so long as they incorporated coding into each world’s creation. Each world provides challenges for players such as finding secret levers, parkour, and escape rooms. They reflected on how much noisier those ten Middle School boys were compared to this group of fifteen Upper School girls and boys. Also of note is how much more skilled older students are with group problem-solving. Although they were initially concerned that their peers might not follow their instructions or be engaged in the work, they were pleased to see everyone working very hard on their projects, even skipping breaks or parts of lunch in order to make more progress. Similar to what Mr. Tepedino and I discovered long ago, giving students autonomy to play and create keeps them very engaged!

In preparing for May Term Exhibition Night, I discovered the laminated Minecraft instructions from four years ago. While the Lower School players from the past are now in Middle School and probably don’t need them, we suspect some parents will find them very helpful! I also found the signs we had put up for each of the projects the Middle Schoolers had created. Cameron and Caden each took one as a souvenir; Caden remarked, “This is more meaningful to me than any certificate I could have gotten from a summer camp.” We are so proud that Caden and Cameron decided to share Minecraft with new learners, and we hope they are proud of themselves! And we hope you found a chance to play a little Minecraft on Exhibition Night, June 6th!

Judith Van Alstyne

Judith Van Alstyne

Judy worked as a reference librarian and children’s librarian in several public libraries in the Rochester area before coming to Allendale Columbia in 1997. At AC, she serves as Head Librarian and teaches Digital Literacy, Information Literacy, and library classes for students in nursery through first grade. Judy holds a bachelor's degree from Tufts University, a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and a Master of Library Sciences Degree from Simmons College. Judy is leaving AC after the 2018-2019 school year to complete her PhD in Education (Teaching & Curriculum) with a focus on digital literacies and online learning.
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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School

Biking May Term Collecting Used Bikes for R Community Bikes

Posted on May 31st, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

Allendale Columbia’s “Biking Beyond Rochester” May Term class is collecting old and used bicycles for R Community Bikes, a partner organization that collects and fixes used bicycles for free distribution to Rochester’s most needy students and adults. They also provide a tune up and teaches basic repair skills to AC’s group. The “Biking Beyond Rochester” students will be collecting bikes at Exhibition Night on June 6th. Bikes can also be dropped off at the AC athletic entrance with a “FOR DONATION” note on it. (more…)

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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Highlights, Middle School, Upper School

Donate Prom/Formal Dresses for Community Service May Term

Posted on May 23rd, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

Allendale Columbia’s Community Service May Term group is collecting prom dresses, formal dresses, and accessories to donate to Fairy Godmothers, a non-profit organization that gives back to the community. Please bring your gently used dresses and accessories to the Welcome Desk at Allendale Columbia School. Donations will be accepted through Thursday, June 6th. Please contribute!

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Posted in: Highlights, Middle School, Upper School

May Term Focuses on Helping Others With 3 Charitable Drives

Posted on May 23rd, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

By Amy Oliveri, Director of the AC Center for Entrepreneurship and May Term Coordinator

This year’s May Term is focused on helping others. Each Session incorporates service learning into its curriculum. Three charitable drives will run until the end of May Term, which culminates in Exhibition Night on June 6th from 6:00-7:30 p.m. This school-wide celebration showcases the projects and learning that take place during these twelve days of interdisciplinary learning, highlighted by cross-divisional and collaborative teaching models. Some of our sessions are even co-taught by students. (more…)

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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Entrepreneurship, Highlights, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Partnerships, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School

Help Animal Care May Term by Donating Pet Supplies

Posted on May 23rd, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

The Animal Care May Term at Allendale Columbia is looking to support Lollypop Farm and Joyful Rescues Animal Shelter by donating supplies needed by these organizations. You can make a real difference for these animals and help them live comfortably in these shelters until they find their “forever” home. Please consider donating any of the following items (please no dollar store items since they are dangerous to animals):

  • Canned dog & cat food
  • Sturdy leashes
  • Dog collars (especially size small)
  • Dog & cat treats
  • Non-clumping cat litter
  • Blankets (new/used)
  • Cat towers & scratching posts
  • Pet beds
  • Cat & dog toys
  • 8-to-10-gallon garbage bags
  • Gift cards to gas stations, Wegmans, Pet$avers, CountryMax, Tractor Supply
  • Paper towels
  • Clorox bleach

Please bring these items to the AC Welcome Desk anytime through June 6th. You can also bring items with you to May Term Exhibition Night on Thursday, June 6th, 6:00-7:30 p.m.

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Posted in: Highlights, Middle School, Partnerships, Upper School

Gettysburg & D.C. Excursion Humbling, Insightful for 8th-Graders

Posted on May 17th, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

Allendale Columbia’s 8th-graders traveled to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. in early May as the culmination of their Middle School experience, with many tie-ins to their Capstone Project. First, they visited the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield where more than 50,000 Americans lost their lives. The visit dovetailed perfectly with the class’s studies, and, as one 8th-grader said, “Being there really helped me comprehend what happened.” Mr. Seth Hopkins, a Civil War buff, guided our bus tour, providing colorful commentary on Gettysburg’s significance and on the considerable sacrifices made by Upstate New York regiments. (more…)

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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Eighth Grade, Highlights, Middle School

Capstone Exhibition Shows Grade 8 Interdisciplinary Learning

Posted on May 17th, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

8th-grade students showcased their learning at the 2019 8th Grade Exhibition Day. This was the fourth year that 8th-graders have spent their second semester immersed in an interdisciplinary capstone experience related to World War II that combined concepts from their history, English, and science courses.

The capstone experience began after reading Most Likely to Succeed by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, furthering the emphasis on 21st century skills such as research, collaboration, and communication versus traditional classroom learning as students prepare to transition to Upper School and the world beyond. (more…)

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Posted in: Eighth Grade, Highlights, Middle School