There can be a lot of anxiety for kids when they make the shift from elementary to middle school. The campus is a lot bigger, they have to change classrooms between subjects and they need to use a locker.
For many students opening a locker is a little tricky at first, especially negotiating the combination lock. And if they do open the locker and put their books in, they have to get them out again. All in time for the next class. So, a little adjustment period can really help students get used to the pace of middle school.
Marana Middle School held its annual SOAR Camp July 26 through 30 to ease this transition for incoming seventh graders. SOAR stands for Steps to Organization, Achievement and Responsibility, and the camp helps students adjust to their changing roles as middle school students.
Around 120 students voluntarily attended one of the two week-long sessions. The first session took place from May 31 to June 4.
Students like Philip Jordan, who previously attended Roadrunner Elementary, struggled with his locker on the first day. Now he feels more confident.
"I usually could open it two times a day," he said about that first day. "Now I can open it three or four times a day."
What's more, during that first week of school he can help other students open their lockers.
"We have them be ambassadors for the other students," said Marana Middle School teacher Mike Jones. "They learn all about school rules and where everything is."
Tortolita Middle School also offers an orientation program separate from SOAR to help their students with the transition.
The students meet with the principal and athletic director. Police officers and coaches also come out and talk to the kids. Some eighth graders volunteered to help the students get used to the campus.
"We want to get them started way ahead so they get the culture and understand what we expect," said Lisa Jungbluth, coordinator of SOAR and Marana Middle School teacher.
Sylvia Anaya whose coming to Marana Middle School from Picture Rocks Elementary said she feels a lot more comfortable on campus than she did on the first day of SOAR. She got a chance to meet students from other schools in the district, all of which makes that first week of school a little easier.
At SOAR, knowledge flows in both directions, teachers and administrators also learn from the students. Adults have a tendency to forget what children struggle with most, Marana Middle School Principal David Liss said.
"It has brought to light what their biggest concerns are," Liss said. "So we can we address those on a school-wide basis. And it turns out one of their biggest concerns is time management."
When students go from having one class to five, juggling homework assignments can be a challenge, so Marana Middle School provides all students with an agenda, Liss said.
But the week isn't all business, the students also get to enjoy themselves. Incoming seventh grader, Jordan said he had the most fun "running around and hurting my knee," as he pointed to a scrape on his leg.
At the beginning of the week, the students are divided into three teams based on the school's colors, red, white and blue. On some days the teams engage in academic activities, on others they have a little more fun.
The culminating event is a pep rally where the students listen to a speech by their principal and receive certificates noting their successful completion of SOAR. Then the real fun begins. The three teams, this year the Red Falcons, the Blue Jays and the Bombdiggities compete in various relay races.
The kids first dribbled a basketball around cones and then had to make a lay-up before passing the ball back to their waiting teammates who repeated the process. In the next race the volunteers from the team spun around five times and then ran a short distance, and in the last race the students tried to stomp balloons attached to each other's ankles without having their own balloon popped. During the competitions their teammates cheered them on from the bleachers.
The winners of the relay races didn't matter though, the big competition came at the very end of the camp when the three teams performed the cheers they had prepared just minutes before the pep rally.
At the end, the eighth graders who had showed the students around the school for the week presented the SOAR trophy to the winning team: the Bombdiggities.
The Blue Jays and Red Falcons were upset they didn't win the trophy but teachers reminded them that at middle school they would have to learn to how to deal with such disappointment.
While only the bombdiggities got the trophy, all the students who attended SOAR left with a greater familiarity of the school they will soon attend.
And Liss said the positive effects of SOAR are noticed throughout the school year.
"The SOAR camp allays a lot of concerns that students have coming into Middle School," he said.