Magazine article AMLE Magazine

A Middle School Orientation Gets an Upgrade

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

A Middle School Orientation Gets an Upgrade

Article excerpt

Every fall, right before the start of school, students from preschool through college attend some sort of school orientation. Orientations provide an overview of what to expect in a new school, including all the classes, programs, and services available, and offer students an opportunity to meet the staff, faculty, and fellow classmates. It's the school's way of extending a warm welcome and highlighting the best of what they have to offer.

For the most part, the orientations are based on the point of view of those designing the presentations- we tell the students what we want them to know and what we think they need to know in order to thrive in our school.

But while we are planning for the students, how much of them do we really include? What do they want to know? What are their concerns? How can we design an orientation that is relevant for our students in both content and delivery?

This Is Not Working

I first became involved with the planning side of an orientation when my youngest son was in middle school. We were new to the district when he entered seventh grade; when he was in eighth grade, he was elected student council president. He and I were asked to speak to the parents of the incoming seventh graders-to share our experience of coming to the middle school.

Our fellow speakers were the PTA president and her daughter, Samantha. When Samantha got up to speak, she recounted every student's worst nightmares about entering a new school: not being able to open either of her lockers, not finding her classrooms, teachers yelling at her because she was late, and not having anyone to sit with in the cafeteria.

Neither my son's nor Samantha's experiences were typical for middle school students, and I imagine that the parents in the audience did not leave the presentation reassured about their children's transition to middle school.

Fast Forward a Few Years

As a sixth grade assistant principal, I found myself in charge of the middle school orientation presentation, which meant dusting offthe previous year's PowerPoint presentation, changing the date on the first slide to reflect the current year, and making any personnel changes within the slides.

Yet, as presentation formats evolved, so did our presentation. We switched out the stick figure clip art for gifs or non-copyrighted images from the Internet and added photos of kids working in classes and participating in cocurriculars.

We created a slideshow to play as the students entered the cafetorium: pictures of smiling students across campus with "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story reinforcing our positive message. Based on the most frequently asked questions from our past orientation participants, we spent more time talking about lockers, lunch, and recess.

Then, seventh and eighth grade student council members gave the incoming students a tour of the building-pretty standard as far as middle school orientations go.

Despite our ongoing improvements to the presentation over the years, I began to notice that as I went through the slide presentation, slide by slide, the students seemed to lose interest, their eyes glazing over when I spoke about the curriculum of the four core subjects. And one could say only so much about lockers and lunch.

We needed to appeal to the tech-savvy sensibility of today's students. We were ready for an upgrade.

Catalyst for Change

The timely arrival of Race to the Top brought with it a new teacher evaluation model-one whose evaluation rubrics gave top marks to projects that were studentgenerated. This student-centric focus aligns with the Association for Middle Level Education's description of a successful middle school as one that empowers students to take an active role in the creative process, working collaboratively with their teachers in "handsjoined" activities that they develop together.

The year before, I had used iMovie to create a video version of a current sixth grade student's "Dear New Student" letter, with a voice-over of the student reading his letter. …

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