Academy aims to ease transition to middle school

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

The transition from elementary to middle school can be one of the toughest for young people, but a program at Trimble County Middle School is designed to ease the stress for incoming sixth-graders this year.

Principal Mike Genton is hoping for 100 percent turnout for the Sixth-Grade Academy at TCMS, which will be Aug. 3-5. The 2010-11 school year begins Aug. 12.

The academy will begin like any other school day, with participating students catching the bus in the morning. Once at the school, they will have breakfast and then attend orientation programs, during which they will become accustomed to their new surroundings and get acquainted with their new teachers. They also will be served lunch and returned home on the buses.

Genton said the TCMS staff want to make the transition to the upper grades “as smooth as possible, so [the students’ acacemic] performance doesn’t go down” from what they achieved at the elementary schools.

“We’re really excited about this,” Genton said. “We’ve been wanting to do this for several years, but haven’t had the funding to do it.”

The academy is another benefit of TCMS Tier I status in the No Child Left Behind program. Tier I means the school didn’t meet all the federal requirements of the program, which is intended to ensure children from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds get the same quality public education.

Genton estimated operation of the academy – opening school three days early, paying staff, teachers, bus drivers and custodians, etc. – will cost about $5,700. The program is paid for from part of the $113,000 federal grant the school received to help it meet NCLB goals by the end next year. The rest of that funding is being used to provide innovative technology resources for students designed to improve reading and math scores.

Sixth-grade math teacher Alice Messer, who is in charge of the academy, said teaching organizational skills to the new students is one goal.

“Organization is a weak point for sixth-graders and really stresses them out,” mainly because they go from having a couple of teachers in fifth grade to five or six teachers, all teaching different courses and with different expectations, in sixth.

Reducing anxiety also is a main goal. “There are a lot of contributing factors – new teachers, new buildings and new students,” Messer said, pointing out that the sixth grade merges fifth-graders from Milton and Bedford elementary schools, many of whom may not know each other.

“We want [the students] to feel comfortable,” she said. “We want the students to meet faculty and staff in a more intimate setting than an open house,” to help build rapport and relationships.

On the first day of the academy, students will be informed about how they will be expected to behave at TCMS. They will learn the procedures for being in the hallway between classes, as well as how to behave in the cafeteria and on buses.

Additionally, they will receive binders and other school supplies, as well as their class schedules and locker assignments. The school supplies, normally, are things the students are required to buy on their own, but this year will be paid for through the grant, Messer said.

On the second day, following a quiz to review information from the first day, the students will be introduced to all the sixth-grade teachers and staff, along with their “Peer Helpers,” eighth-graders assigned to help their younger peers at the school.

Peer Helpers and staff from the district’s Family Resource and Youth Services Center will help with activities during the academy.

Music and art programs taught by TCMS exploratory teachers will fill most of the third day, and the students will receive their computer login information and their individual learning plans.

Serious topics, such as self-esteem and dealing with bullies also will be addressed.

Messer said the students will receive prizes for doing well with the daily quizzes. “There’s a lot of fun thrown in.”

Reducing the amount of time it takes for sixth-graders to adjust to their new surroundings will help them settle into the academic routine quickly.

“Usually, it takes us a couple of weeks to get the sixth-graders settled in and for them to get into the instructional part of school,” she said.

And, she’s hoping the academy will “spark enthusiasm” among the students. “I want the students to be excited about sixth grade; I want this to be something they will really remember.”

Genton agreed, and said he hopes all 118 of the students enrolled in sixth grade this year will attend. “It’s going to be a wonderful experience – a boost for their education.”

For more information about the academy program and schedule, call Genton or Messer during business hours at (502) 255-7361.