Sherry Vratil has a message for her sixth-grade students: Grow up.
Not in a bad way. It’s just that they’re about to make a big transition to junior high, and there will be new demands on them.
“It is time to grow up and take responsibility,” says Vratil, who teaches at Wakarusa Valley School.
Elementary school sixth-graders are counting down the days until they enter the world of junior high, where lockers, athletics, switching classes and other changes can create excitement — or cause stress.
“I start talking about junior high on the first day of sixth grade,” Vratil says. “I tell the students that sixth grade is practice for seventh grade.”
The message is similar at Quail Run School, where sixth-grade teacher Barb Thompson says the motto is “Sixth grade leading the way.” The students even do that as a cheer during recess on Fridays.
“We emphasize personal respect, responsibility, teamwork, self-discipline and perseverance as characteristics they will work on all year to be ready for junior high,” Thompson says. “We try constantly to get students to take responsibility for their work, their actions and their words.”
Junior high counselors visited the elementary schools in January to enroll students for the fall. There also are meetings to familiarize parents with the junior highs, and students get to tour their new schools in May.
“It depends on the individual student, but most are excited to journey on to new horizons,” Thompson says. “Maturity at the sixth-grade level varies quite a bit.”
Instilling that sense of responsibility is important as students prepare for seventh grade, says Bob Kircher, counselor at Southwest Junior High School. He lists lockers, passing periods and elective classes as the biggest differences between elementary and junior high school.
His message to sixth-graders: “Next year will be an exciting time. Students will have more freedom and choices than in elementary school. Students will have the opportunity to make many new friends. In addition to parents, principals, teachers, counselors and support staff are available to help in this transition.”
And Kircher’s messages to parents:
• Expect some changes developmentally — physically, emotionally and socially.
• Although students may act as if they do not need you, they still do.
• Give students space but stay involved.
• Do a daily backpack and planner check. Help them learn the process of bringing home information, completing work assigned and getting it turned in on time.
• Talk with students about the decisions they are making.
• Use the Skyward Family Access program to check students’ grades, schedules, assignments and attendance online.
If students do have problems making the transition, Kircher says it usually revolves around organization and time management. Also, social interactions may make students nervous, especially as they meet new classmates from other elementary schools that all filter into one junior high.
And Thompson, the Quail Run teacher, suggests keeping an eye on your students to make sure they’re not overbooked. After all, school alone is about to get a little more stressful.
“It’s good to have outside activities,” she says. “But some parents get their kids’ schedules completely full, and the kids are stressed, can’t complete homework and lack proper sleep sometimes. Everyone needs a good balance to their lives, including young people.”