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:

Advocacy

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.

Advisory

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.

Lunch

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 Code.org). 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

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

“That Band Was Sick!” Jazz Clinic Hones Student Musicianship

Posted on April 12th, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

By Gabe Costanzo, Music Teacher

Blake Pattengale contacted me around the beginning of March to see if we had any interest in a jazz clinic at AC. I am always looking for ways to bring exceptional performers to school to show students the kinds of experiences they could be having if they continue to develop their musicianship, so this sounded like a great opportunity.

Blake and his band, the Gray Quartet, did not disappoint. They taught our students about jazz by playing a plethora of tunes, starting with today’s pop hits and working back in time to make connections with the jazz tunes that influenced pop music. (more…)

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

AC College Advising Team Reminds Families of Best Practices

Posted on March 22nd, 2019 by cnickels

The recent news coverage questioning the integrity of the college admission process is unsettling for all of us. Students work incredibly hard to earn a spot into their best-fit college and that is how it should work for everyone. At Allendale Columbia we want to assure you that we have always followed the NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices, which governs the actions of college admission officers, high school counselors, and independent admission consultants.

As your family considers next steps for the college application process, and your friends or family members consider working with AC College Consulting, we wanted to share a few reminders and best practices when it comes to supporting your child in his or her college application process.

  • Stay encouraged. The vast majority of college admission decisions are based upon the holistic review of students’ merits.
  • Trust our experience. Kristin Cocquyt, College Advisor, and Emily Nevinger, College Advising Consultant, have 30 years of combined admissions-related experience.  We believe in the ethical practice of college advising, working with families and students on individualized plans for their college search and application processes.
  • Ask our advice. If you ever feel like a company or organization is offering you additional support or guarantees that seem too good to be true, you can contact us for help in evaluating the organization.
  • Trust the process. We do not condone the financial contributions of families to colleges for the purposes of preferential treatment in the admission process.
  • Know we have your student’s best interests in mind, as do college admission officers. We regularly and ethically engage our professional networks to authentically support our students’ success in the college admission process.

 

Upcoming AC College Advising and College Consulting Events

College Consulting: Creating an Authentic, Well-Rounded Application – April 6th
What types of classes, extracurriculars, and recommendation letters make a college application stand out? This workshop is designed for students early in their high school careers, when there is time to discover and build a strong foundation. This program is open to the public.

 

AC Class of 2020 Family College Meetings – Now through May 23rd
Family College Meetings, which include student/parents(s)/host parent(s)/guardian(s), are crucial opportunities for us to discuss the family’s goals for the college process. During this meeting, we will create a student’s standardized testing plan, discuss the important criteria and goals for the student’s college search process, and Kristin Cocquyt will follow up with a personalized list of college suggestions and resources. Families should contact Kristin directly to schedule their meeting after one “Junior Parent Survey” is submitted in Naviance Student. Meetings can be scheduled during a student’s free period or at 3:15 p.m. Skype meetings can also be scheduled with international families. Since early planning is key to a successful college process, Family College meetings should be wrapped up before Strawberry Breakfast on May 23rd.

 

Kristin Cocquyt

Kristin Cocquyt

Unlike most of our peer schools, we have a dedicated full-time college counselor. Kristin Cocquyt's primary focus is to support, guide, and advise AC students on their college search and application process. She has been in the field of education for 13 years and has visited over 160 colleges, giving her a solid basis for recommending colleges that are great matches for our students. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Policy from Hamilton College and is a member of both the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

 

Emily Nevinger

Emily Nevinger

Emily Nevinger is Allendale Columbia School's College Advising Consultant, guiding students in the greater Rochester area and beyond on the college application process, financial aid, interview preparation, essay review, and more! Emily began working at the university level in 2003 and was a senior member of the admission committees for University of Miami, Emory University, and UNC Chapel Hill. Emily holds a bachelor's degree in Public Policy from Duke University and a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and Enrollment Management from the University of Miami. She will earn her College Access Counseling Certificate from Rice University in 2019.
Posted in: College Advising News, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Middle School, MS Birches, Ninth Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School, US Birches

AC School, Students Win Awards at Terra Regional Science Fair

Posted on March 21st, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

Allendale Columbia won the Terra School Award at Terra Science and Education’s Rochester Finger Lakes Regional Science and Engineering Fair (TRFSEF) hosted by Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC). Thirteen AC students also received recognitions at the event, including the right to advance to higher-level competitions.

Sixteen AC Middle and Upper School students submitted 11 projects, the most of any participating school, which resulted in the award that comes with a check for $2,000 for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives. The students packed up their AC Innovation Day Science Fair projects and took the displays the next morning to RMSC. After setting up their projects and passing a Display and Safety check (science can be “messy”, after all), the students went to a lunch keynote address by Maria G. Korsnick, President/CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“Science Fair is inspiring and invigorating, because all these students are excited about science, every student, from fifth graders who are doing behavior projects with their cats and a dog to senior research projects that have to do with cancer diagnosis and research and machine learning, really high-end stuff,” said Maya Crosby, Director of the AC Invent Center for STEM and Innovation, and Director-in-Training for TRFSEF. “But everybody who is here is excited about their project and can’t wait to talk about it with the judges who are coming around. That curiosity all packaged in one room is really inspiring; that’s the great part.” (more…)

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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Fifth Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School

Side-by-Side Concert Builds Connections Through Music

Posted on March 21st, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

With the importance of connections being central to the mission of Allendale Columbia School, we treasure opportunities for collaboration across members of our community. On Friday, March 1st, students, teachers, staff, administrators, and family members came together in a special after-school event to build connections through music-making as a band. This side-by-side concert was coordinated by instrumental music teachers Lynn Grossman and Gabe Costanzo.

What is a side-by-side concert?

Side-by-side concerts are opportunities for musicians of various ages and ability levels to get together to perform together as a group and learn from each other while celebrating learning and growth in a fun, low-stress environment. In this event, parents, older siblings, grandparents, extended family, and family friends were all invited. School faculty, staff, and administrators were also welcome to join in the fun. (more…)

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Posted in: Authentic Learning, Eighth Grade, Fifth Grade, Fourth Grade, Highlights, Lower School, Middle School, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade

AC’s Peter Pan Jr. Opens Dialogue on Cultural Representation

Posted on March 13th, 2019 by Allendale Columbia School

Allendale Columbia’s Middle School students aren’t just building community and an understanding of theatrical productions in this weekend’s Peter Pan JR. They have been engaged in an interesting dialogue about cultural representation.

AC’s Middle School production of “Peter Pan JR.” takes flight at 7:00 p.m. Friday, March 15th, and Saturday, March 16th. Tickets are available at http://acs.booktix.com or at the door.

In the original stage productions of Peter Pan, written by J.M. Barrie in the early 20th century, the people of Neverland were often depicted as caricatures of Native American stereotypes. This was a common trope in the literature and entertainment of the era, though these types of depictions would be decried as offensive today.

Since its initial stage performances, the show has been adapted several times for both stage and film, most famously with the animated Disney film from 1953. Even in this depiction, the people of Neverland are exaggerated and culturally insensitive versions of Native Americans in their appearance, customs, and language. For Disney’s Peter Pan JR. adaptation for the stage, there were notable efforts to reduce the misinformed and insensitive representations of Native Americans, but as a school, we felt even these efforts fell short.

While some of the more distasteful language had been cut for the junior edition, and the song “What Makes the Red Man Red” altered to “What Makes the Brave Ones Brave”, the people of Neverland are still referred to as “Indians”, which harkens back to the story’s history of misrepresentation of culture. Rather than allowing these issues to prevent us from performing an otherwise excellent show, the production team chose to rework the depiction of these characters. We opened up a dialogue with Middle School students about why it is important to properly represent cultures and the reasoning behind the decision to make the changes we did.

The process began when we realized that, if AC is a school that truly values other cultures, it was our job to present a telling of this story that reflected these values. The word “Indians” was still in the script we received, but we felt that this was not an accurate description of the people of Neverland nor the role we wanted to present. In the program, we chose to call them “Neverlanders”.

We discussed with the cast how we could develop Neverlanders’ culture in a way that did not draw from existing cultures, but rather was unique to life in Neverland. As the Neverlanders’ main song has a recurring message of “what makes the brave girl brave?”, we cast all our Neverlanders as girls. We highlighted the idea of strong female role models while developing their characters. This worked with the material in the script and reflected a positive message, replacing the image that was previously intended to poke fun at stereotypes.

The discussions that took place within the cast and in the Middle School as a whole will hopefully continue and build a more educated and culturally engaged environment.

 

 

Cassidy Draper

Cassidy Draper

Cassidy Draper '19 is the Middle School musical's Student Director. Between her Science Research and Writing Project, participation in the regional TEAMS competition, and work for the Global Engagement Diploma, she has performed in 10 AC theater productions between Middle and Upper School and has now decided to bring her theater experience to the next generation of AC's performers. She has enjoyed taking on the Student Director role and the opportunity to build connections between the Middle and Upper School that she hopes will last far beyond her graduation this June.
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Posted in: Eighth Grade, Highlights, Middle School, PACK, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade