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Eagle Ridge Inspires New Students

One hundred of Eagle Ridge Middle School's 430 new sixth-graders will feel a little more at home when they step through the school's front doors for their first day thanks to a new program set up by the school's administration.

The program, known as INSPIRE, was created by Principal Janice Koslowski, along with eighth-grade dean James Watson and guidance counselors Kelly Badger and Gary Sharp, as an extended summer orientation program to help rising sixth-graders adjust to the transition between elementary and middle school.

"This transition can be very emotional for kids," Badger said. "There is an adjustment period."

INSPIRE, AN ACRONYM for involved at my school, new discoveries await me, success in my education, persistence in my achievement, insight into my future, resolve to do my best, and engaged in my learning, was the result of months of research and preparation by Eagle Ridge's staff, Koslowski said.

"It started with a conversation with the staff," she said. "Asking what we could do to make it easier for the students."

In order to ensure that they were meeting the actual needs of incoming students, the Eagle Ridge staff began a series of surveys in March and April, talking to the sixth-grade teachers about what they felt their students needed to help them be successful from the first day of school, Koslowski said.

"We did not survey parents, but we felt the teachers had a real feel for what the students needed," she said.

Badger and Sharp went into fifth-grade classrooms at the elementary schools and asked the students what they wanted to know before coming to middle school. The Eagle Ridge staff then spoke with the sixth-grade class to find out what they would have wanted to know when they began at the school.

"We also looked at a couple of [orientation] programs and researched what other schools were doing," Badger said. "We wanted it backed in as much research as we could."

THE RESULT OF the staff's extensive research was a one-week program with three distinctive themes: study skills, organization and time management, and social and emotional issues. Thirty to 50 incoming sixth-graders participated in each of the three summer sessions.

"It was really a simple program because it's all the basics," Koslowski said. "When [students] are here that first day of school they're not worried about having to read, they're worried about how to open their locker and where the cafeteria is."

To choose the students who participated in the program, Eagle Ridge asked the elementary schools to identify those who might benefit from what the program offered.

"Some were kids who were at risk in certain areas, others were kids taking their first AP [advanced placement] classes," Koslowski said.

After the elementary schools made their recommendations, the program was opened on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Koslowski said she got such a response from parents that she had to turn students away because the program was not prepared to take more than 100 children.

Each day of the program was modeled after the school day, including class bells and receiving a locker.

"We're hoping that we will be able to let them have the same locker once school starts," Koslowski said. "It will help with their comfort level."

Increasing the children's level of comfort with all of the things required of them in middle school was the goal of each of the themed classes, which were lead by Eagle Ridge teachers and guidance counselors.

IN THEIR STUDY skills class, the students learned about things such as how to outline for a paper and how to take comprehensive notes. The time management section focused on organizing everything from their lockers to their days.

"The students created a day plan," Badger said. "They scheduled every 30 minutes from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. They filled in what they will do each day."

Badger said the day plans helps the sixth-graders visualize what time they will have each day for homework and how to plan around extracurricular activities such as a sports team.

Badger herself led the discussion of social and emotional issues the students will face in middle school and she said the children responded well to the topics, which ranged from what their personal responsibilities would be to how they could help create a bully-free school.

"Opening that dialogue really helped them to understand how to be prepared if they came across something negative," she said. "They were really open and wanted to talk about the issues."

Badger also brought in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade peer mediators to talk to the students about conflict management and how to properly resolve their personal conflicts.

"Six of my kids came and performed a skit for the students," she said. "Then the students wrote their own skit with the [mediators‚] help."

IN ADDITION TO getting to know the workings of a middle school, the classes gave the students the chance to get to know the teachers and administrators they would be working with in the coming year.

"It is about making a connection with the school itself," Badger said. "So every student has an adult that they feel comfortable with and that they can come to. We want to build a sense of community early on."

As a part of creating that community, Koslowski worked closely with the parents of the 100 children in the program. Following an orientation to the program on the first day, Koslowski spoke with the parents answering their questions and letting them know what they and their children could expect in the coming year.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to start of really well with those parents," she said.

THE STUDENTS WHO participated in INSPIRE will be tracked throughout the year to monitor their adjustment to middle-school life compared to students who did not participate.

"We are going to look at how they do academically, behaviorally and how things like their attendance are," Badger said. "We really want to know if we are making a difference."

Both Badger and Koslowski say they have been overwhelmed by the response they have gotten from the students, who say they feel prepared for and at ease about the first day of school, and they hope to be able to open the program up to all rising sixth-graders next year.

"We started small so we could take a real hard look at if what we were doing really had an impact," Badger said. "We're here to make a difference for these kids."

Koslowski said that what really made the difference for the students who participated in INSPIRE were the people who were dedicated to making the program a success.

"Programs like this are possible when teachers, parents and students come together for a common goal," she said. "And I really appreciate that."