The 7 Things Worrying Your Soon-to-Be-Middle Schooler and What We’re Doing About It
If you think back and remember what it was like to be a new student at a new school or a student new to the middle school years, you will recall a variety of feelings and emotions, many good, some not so good. It is never easy entering a new environment, especially one where the other students have either been together for a long time or have forged strong relationships both with each other and the faculty. Aside from having to adjust to a new schedule, one has the daunting task of making new friends, meeting expectations of many different teachers, and fitting into a new school community. Deborah Wilburn (2007) writes, “Whether your child starts middle school in 5th grade or 8th (and no matter how confident he/she is at the prospect), chances are there’s something about it that has him/her scared” (Kids’ Biggest Middle School Fears, Scholastic Parents, 2007). Wilburn reported that after an informal survey of parents, students, and experts who work with middle school aged children, the top seven things that concern students the most (in no particular order) are:
- Combination locks
- Being late for class
- Not having friends
- Facing the lunchroom
- Being too different
- Tough classes
- Getting lost
The task of helping students overcome these areas of concern has traditionally fallen to the adults. However, at Hilltop Country Day School, we are proud to empower our returning students to take on the responsibility of helping those new to our school and new to Hilltop’s Upper School by demonstrating a different kind of leadership than what may be typical in other settings.
Grant Nelson, author of Student Leadership Today (2003), intimates that the kind of leadership that is needed in today’s schools, especially middle school years, is the kind where students are genuinely interested in helping each other by showing “simple gestures of friendliness and a sincere heart” (Nelson, 2003, p. 2). He goes on to say that “. . . the students who are demonstrating the most outstanding leadership qualities are the ones who don’t necessarily know they are even leading” (p. 2).
So how do we do this? Three ways: The Grade 8 Peer Leadership Program, the Advisor Program, and our Core Values.
Eighth grade students are given training in the kind of leadership that makes a difference in the lives of both the students and the school community as a whole.
The faculty and I are mindful that leadership is not always about who stands in front of a crowd leading cheers. It is, however, about our student body wanting to make a difference and having the courage to take action. Helping students new to our school find their way around school, seeing fellow students who look lost or confused and asking if they need help, going out of their way to ask a new or returning student to sit with them at lunch, being aware of anyone who might be sitting alone and inviting them to join their table, or just taking the time to ask someone how their day was are some examples of how our students begin the year as strong leaders. “It is only when the halls of our schools are filled with joy, that there will be no student at school who feels alone, and the school community will be able to achieve true greatness” (Nelson, August 2003, p. 3).
Each student in Grades 6–8 is assigned an advisor for the academic year. The primary roles of the advisors are to serve as the student’s academic advocate and to be the center of communication between parents and teachers.
The faculty meets on a regular basis to discuss the academic progress of each individual student. At those meetings, advisors are apprised of any situations (positive and/or negative) concerning the student’s academic/social/emotional life at Hilltop. The advisor relays any pertinent information to the student and/or parent as needed.
Aside from the advisee group meetings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8 to 8:15 a.m., advisors and advisees generally meet once per week to discuss any issues pertinent to the student’s life at school or in general. These meetings can be short five-minute chats or longer conversations about specific problems or concerns, but they are scheduled at the beginning of the year between advisor and advisee to ensure consistent meeting time. Most students use their advisor to help resolve scheduling problems, social conflicts, or any other concerns.
Ultimately the advisor/advisee system is in place to allow students the opportunity to have a trusted adult who is personally available for them at Hilltop Country Day School.
In grade 6, students are assigned an advisor. In grades 7 and 8, students choose an advisor (though they may not always receive their first choice). Students provide the assistant head of school with a list of advisor choices in the spring for the following school year.
At Hilltop, our entire school abides by the principles of our Core Values: Honesty, Kindess, Respect and Responsibility. These four words are the cornerstone values that guide our community and are threaded throughout the school day. The Core Values give students clear expectations for behavior and help to develop a community of inclusion and acceptance. Hilltop expects to develop well-rounded global citizens who value the learning process, treat others with honesty and respect, practice compassion, honor diversity, celebrate individual potential, and reject prejudice and bullying.
Becoming a middle schooler doesn’t have to be difficult – and at Hilltop, it isn’t. Instead, middle schoolers experience excitement, structure, and organization as they embrace their new-found responsibility and begin their journey to leaving their own mark at Hilltop and beyond.