15 September 2021
The start of a new school year can cause a mixture of emotions for students. For those taking the big jump from elementary to middle school, the new terms can feel intimidating, and maybe even awkward.
New teachers, new uniforms, new settings and new rules are just a few things students transitioning from elementary or primary school can expect when they begin middle school. It’s a drastic change from what they're used to at school and students can feel anxious about this new stage in their life. A supportive learning team can help make that transition easier on the students.
At Cayman International School, the incoming grade six students go through weeks of preparation for their big move to middle school with the help of their counsellors. This past spring, elementary school counsellor Brandi Hamlin and middle school counsellor Andie Urquhart worked together to initiate this process with the grade five students.
“We started as early as April to prepare for the transition, and then in May, we had our "back-to-school" nights with parents to talk about what it will be like for the students as they get ready for middle school,” said Hamlin. “We get a lot of questions from both the parents and the students wanting to better understand what they need to do to prepare and what they need to know about going to middle school, because that's the time we start to see some anxiety from them.”
During these sessions, the students get an understanding of what to expect and the types of changes they will experience, from having multiple teachers and their own locker, to relying on their executive function skills such as time management and organisation.
“It’s so important to help them understand that there are some differences between elementary and middle school," said Hamlin. "They’re not scary changes; it’s just a part of growing up and we let them know that they should be excited about that and embrace it,” said Hamlin.
Beyond the logistical elements of the transition, Urquhart explained that the students often have preconceived notions about middle school that usually generate concerns for them. To help alleviate their worries, the school uses a few techniques.
“One of the things we did before the school year ended is have our incoming eighth graders conduct a tour of the school with the incoming sixth graders,” she said. “We do it this way so that our youngest students are familiar with the oldest students when the new school year starts.”
A breakfast morning was also organised for the students by their future peers, an event that has become a tradition at the school over the years.
“Our incoming seventh graders hosted a breakfast for the students and they provide all the food and the service and they took the time to interact with them and play games,” said Urquhart.
Urquhart also organised for the students to meet the middle school faculty and staff ahead of time, so they aren’t seeing unknown faces when they walk into their classes for the first time. Some of the middle school specialist faculty also joined them at the breakfast to be properly introduced in a more casual setting.
With these efforts, by the time the new school year starts, the sixth graders have become familiar with everyone in the school, which removes a lot of the strangeness and builds a stronger sense of community among them.
“Setting these kids up for success is paramount — we have to give them these tools and continue to be supportive along the way,“ said Urquhart. “It’s not about leaving one place behind and coming to another; it’s about using everything they have learned so far and being able to put them into practice now.”
For Hamlin, she sees this as a beneficial process for everyone involved.
“When the students are successful, everyone is happy," she said. "Parents are happy because their kids come home saying they had a great day, the staff is happy because their students are thriving and students are happy because they know exactly what to expect."
This article first appeared in the September 2021 print edition of Camana Bay Times.
About the author
Ariel Thompson is a content manager at Dart, having joined the company in 2017. A lifelong writer, Ariel was born and raised in the Cayman Islands before studying abroad at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, for her degree in public relations and film and television. With eight years of experience in communications, Ariel joined Dart after working as Cayman International School’s first marketing communications officer. As her name would suggest, Ariel is a Disney fan and has a singing voice to rival The Little Mermaid’s. She loves to conceptualise TV and movie scripts and hopes one day to be a director. When in Camana Bay, Ariel can be found enjoying Mizu Asian Bistro + Bar’s Pad Thai, or shopping with friends and a scoop of gelato in hand.