According to six students from the three PAUSD middle schools, the two greatest transitions in their school careers were the fearsome leap from elementary to middle school, and the “Game Changer” – the transition from 6th to 7th grade, where core teachers are replaced by single-subject teachers, the homework load escalates, and classes are spread out all over campus.
Universally feared by all six students were middle school’s impossibly short five-minute passing periods between classes and associated bathroom breaks, along with homework that piles up if not tackled promptly with a stratagem for prioritization and a methodical pace.
And note: combination locks are best approached with a master plan, that includes memorizing your combination right away. Here’s a tip from Jordan 6th grader, Abigail: set your combination lock to the first two digits so when you come back from class, you only have to complete the last digit.
Beyond these truisms, it is clear that many middle schoolers view their experiences as a dress rehearsal for high school. According to all the students, PiE-funded guidance counselors play a central role in navigating middle school, helping with academics, relationship problems and forward planning. Abigail puts it this way: “Our guidance counselor is so awesome.”
“Your teachers want you to succeed. There is a lot of extra help available for anyone who needs it. All you have to do is ask,” advises Leo of Jordan’s 7th grade. He says that Schoology, the relatively new online system for assigning and submitting homework, has been a big help for sharing study materials and staying on top of your homework.
Leo believes that the most important quality for success in middle school is…“Honesty. Be yourself. If you try to be something you aren’t, and you act that way hoping people will believe you, it won’t work. No one will respect you after that. Just be you. It’s the best advice I can give.”
Terman student body President Martha notes, “You don’t need to rush into anything. Middle school is a process. I started out pretty rocky academically. By the end of 6th grade, I was starting to find my feet, and that’s when I ran for student government and have been involved ever since. Now my grades are just where I want them.”
Martha says she experienced a transformation in her approach to schoolwork at the beginning of 7th grade. “Summer does something to us, where we mature a lot between grades, both after 6th, and especially after 7th grade. When I look back on whom I was when I came in as a 6th grader, I cannot believe I am even the same person.”
Her friend, 8th grader Anaiya, adds that she learned from her older brother that “It’s important to study hard in middle school. Everything they teach in high school builds on what we already know.” Remarks Anaiya, “Going into Terman in 6th grade, I soon realized that popularity didn’t matter. What really matters is having friends who will stay with you through the tough times.”
Abigail came to Jordan from a tiny Montessori grade school. Initially, she was daunted by the size of her new middle school. “But Orientation Week took care of that. They had us running through the halls on a treasure hunt; we had Locker Olympics, where everybody learns how to open a combination lock. I got to know tons of other 6th graders. Now, Jordan doesn’t feel big at all.”
Abigail bikes to school with a posse of neighbors, a group she has come to consider her ‘family.’ In addition, she has a close-knit circle of friends, and feels a kinship with “all of the kids in my class.”
Larkin, formerly of JLS, now a freshman at Paly, encourages younger kids joining the ranks of middle school to “branch out as much as possible. Meet as many people as you can, and be friendly to all of them.” Her fellow Panther, Darby, sounds a reassuring note: “Bullying doesn’t really happen. You just talk out problems.” He adds that the Team system (segmenting the classes into manageable groups of 100) enables him to interact with a smaller subset of kids in his grade, along with special-interest clubs that meet largely at lunchtime. “There is something for everyone,” he says.