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

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