Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Welcoming Students to Middle School

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Welcoming Students to Middle School

Article excerpt

"What if my child doesn't know anyone?" "What if he gets lost?" "Who will help her open her locker?" These comments are typical of anxious parents whose child is preparing to transition into middle school.

At Patterson Mill Middle/High School in Bel Air, Maryland, our goal was to create a fun, camp-like transition for incoming sixth graders and their parents to help them become part of our school community before the students even walked through the front door.

In the Beginning

In The Wizard of Oz, the yellow brick road led Dorothy to the Land of Oz. At Patterson Mill Middle/High School, incoming sixth graders have Pup Camp to guide them on their journey.

In August 2007, Patterson Mill Middle/High School opened its doors to students in grades 6-10, giving us the opportunity to develop a school culture for grades 6-8 before the upperclassmen were added two years later.

The spring before the school opened, Patterson teachers began talking about the orientation for incoming sixth graders. What would our orientation program look like? Would it be a parentonly presentation in the evening? Would it be held during the day and include a tour of the building and a question-and-answer session? What kind of excitement and camaraderie did we want to create for these new students?

A committee of teachers and an administrator met to design a summer day program focused on welcoming the incoming students. We wanted them to have an opportunity to discover new friendships and explore their new surroundings without the hustle and bustle of the other 1,500 students being there. Because our school mascot was the Husky, Pup Camp was born!

How pup camp Works

Pup Camp is a one-day, six-hour summer program for incoming sixth grade students. We have a separate two and one-half hour evening program for the parents.

We present each student camper with a t-shirt that welcomes them to our pack-part of the Husky Nation-and announces their graduating class (always a shocking revelation for parents). We vary the colors of the shirts on a three-year cycle so each grade has its own color on spirit days. They also receive a drawstring bag to carry the items they collect from each session during the day.

Students must register for our camp; we charge a fee to help cover the costs of the promotional items and the pizza dinner. Our initial fee was a flat $25 per camper. Unfortunately, that first year we turned many students away because they did not register before the deadline. We now allow students to register up through the day of camp on a sliding scale: $25 until July 1, $35 from July 1 through the day before camp, and a walk-in registration on camp day of $45. This small modification helped our camp to grow from 42% of incoming sixth graders attending Pup Camp in 2008 to 87% attending in 2014. It also allows us to continue to provide promotional items and dinner to each camper.

On Pup Camp day, the students attend ten 25-minute sessions that incorporate cooperative games, a scavenger hunt, introduction to our media center, an art activity, and a session on bullying. The parents attend four 25-minute evening sessions on handling tech-savvy students, communicating effectively, handling their Husky Pup, academic checkpoints, and career pathways.

Calming common Fears

During the past several years we have added to and changed some of our student sessions to meet the needs of the incoming class and the changing needs of the student population. A few sessions have remained constant.

Three of the biggest fears for incoming students are opening a locker, having seven different teachers, and getting lost. We have sessions designed to help alleviate those fears:

* yukon Quest: Destination Lockers focuses on students finding their own lockers and practicing their combinations.

* Meet the Mushers is a bingo session where students learn a little about the sixth grade teachers and other essential staff around the building. …

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