Smithton Middle School was full of energy this week as incoming sixth-graders picked up their schedules. An inside track has given some of the students the upper hand in this sometimes rocky transition.
Alexis Collins, a sixth-grader, said she’s not worried about entering Smithton. Instead, she looks forward to the year’s possibilities.
“I’m happy about getting out of elementary school,” Alexis said. “I just want to learn and get through the grade.”
Blake Darkow has three older siblings who have been through the middle school system, so he is familiar with the building and some of the events that go on at the school.
“I’m excited about the different classes, especially math and science,” Blake said.
More than 88 percent of public school students are currently moving from elementary school to middle school, according to a paper published by the National Middle School Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
“This time of transition evokes a wide variety of emotions, behaviors and concerns for both young adolescents and their parents,” the report said. “For many students it’s considered a major stepping-stone on the road to becoming an adult.”
Across Columbia this week, middle school students and their parents prepared for the opening of school Aug. 24. On Monday, Smithton students and parents swarmed around postings of team assignments as soon as they walked through the main doors — even ignoring a bowl of candy placed by the entrance.
Laura Pintel, a mother of two students who have been through the transition, said that there are a couple of issues that children confront upon entering middle school.
“Some of the biggest worries that sixth-graders have are getting lost and not knowing anyone on their team,” Pintel said.
Both the sixth and seventh grades at Smithton are divided into teams, with four in each grade. The students remain a part of the same team for the two years of middle school, a practice referred to as “looping” that educators say provides continuity for students and teachers.
Anna Galbreath, a guidance counselor, said that orientation activities occur in the preceding spring that help incoming sixth-graders learn what to expect.
“We have back-to-school welcoming night in the spring for students to get acquainted with the teachers and the building,” Galbreath said. “There is also a special contest that allows its fifth-grade winners to spend the day with a current sixth-grader. They then go back and share the experience with their classmates. But when school starts, the teams do most of the activities.”
The beginning of the school year is set aside for building cohesiveness and camaraderie among team members. To show their spirit of camaraderie, the Leopard’s Lair team came dressed in bright yellow T-shirts and safari hats on Monday.
“The first two days of school, we do team-building activities to get kids comfortable with one another,” said Judy Alexander, a sixth-grade teacher in Leopard’s Lair, which is also known as Team 61.
“We don’t even split up into classes,” Alexander said. “The whole team gets together to go over things such as basic housekeeping rules. We also do a team potluck twice a year.”
While some students said they feel little or no apprehension, Crystal Doss said she thinks she will need some time to get used to everything in middle school, even though she has an older sibling at the school.
“It’s gonna be hard,” Crystal said. “I don’t really know where things are because I haven’t been here a lot.”
There are experiences that older siblings keep off limits to the newcomers.
“My brother won’t tell me what they do at team building,” Alexis said. “He says it’s a surprise.”