The transition between elementary to middle school can be a time that provides a source of anxiety for many students as well as the unfortunate opportunity to fall off track before high school graduation. Research tells us that as early as the 6th grade, students who exhibit at least one of three off-track indicators – poor attendance, unsatisfactory behavior, course failure in math or English – have less than a 25% chance of graduating from high school.
Knowledgeable about the significance and difficulty of the 5th to 6th grade transition, City Year Seattle corps members organized a visit from Dearborn Park Elementary to Aki Kurose Middle School, both of which are City Year sites. Worried elementary school students were able to catch a glimpse of their future school, get their questions answered, and reassure themselves that even if everything else is new at middle school, their red jacketed mentors will continue to look out for them.
During the field trip, students from Aki Kurose’s After-School Heroes, a City Year-run club, led groups of wide-eyed elementary students on a tour. Elementary students were able to preview their future cafeteria, library, classrooms, and even see examples of middle-school work. They talked to a sixth grade language arts teacher, Mrs. Bradley, and read examples of middle school work. Dearborn Park students asked their older tour guides questions like, “How do you open a locker?” or “What is the hardest thing about middle school?” It didn’t take the elementary students long to realize, “Middle school is huge!”
Returning from her tour, City Year corps member, Sheera Langbaum, beamed with excitement. “This is a really interesting opportunity for our middle school students, too. I love how they are taking pride in their school and their accomplishments.”
As a group activity, both middle school and elementary school students then worked together to define homelessness. They imagined how this plight might feel and constructed a flier asking their community to unite around this important issue and donate extra clothes. Students developed a deeper understanding of an important South Seattle issue and made a few new friends. Team leader Drea Bustamante said, “By the end of the day, everyone was buddies with each other!”
Fifth grader Kent* said, “I was surprised to see how big the students were, but still so nice. I didn’t expect that and now I’m less scared to go to middle school.” Next year, fifth graders will enter middle school prepared with knowledge, a few friendships and the security that City Year corps members will still be there for them.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the students we work with.