Moving from fifth grade to sixth is a rite of passage

Barbara Hootman

Transitioning from elementary to middle school is a pivotal point in young lives filled with anticipation and anxiety.

Some 100 fifth-grade students from Black Mountain Elementary School will transition to middle school in the fall.

“Our students are ready to move on to sixth grade,” Norman Bossert, principal of the elementary school, said. “Counselors from Owen Middle School and our counselor, Jessica Telfair, have worked with them for months to prepare them mentally and emotionally. And of course the staff has worked for two years to get them ready academically.”

“I’ve got to be ready because sixth grade is everywhere around me now,” Bonnie O’Neil, a fifth-grade student at Black Mountain Elementary, said.

The current excitement is the fifth-graders’ upcoming “Steppin’ Up” ceremony, held at 6 p.m. Monday, June 6 in the Owen Middle School auditorium. The event officially closes the elementary school experience for rising sixth-graders.

“Last year we had some 500-600 people in attendance at the Steppin’ Up ceremony,” Bossert said. “It is an important event for our students and their parents.”

Telfair, a counselor at the elementary school, said she and Carl Firley, a middle school counselor, collaborated to get the fifth-grade students ready to transition to sixth grade.

“We gathered student input about their greatest concerns regarding the transition via a digital survey,” Telfair said. “Sixth-grade students at OMS developed a video, and Carl showed it in each fifth-grade classroom during a school visit. The (fifth-grade) students had an opportunity to ask questions.

“I take time in class with the students to discuss thoughts and feelings about going to the sixth grade. We are also working together with the middle school YMCA program to identify students for their summer bridge program. It is essentially a brief summer day camp with activities for helping students that need extra time transitioning.”

Liam Gildner, a fifth-grade student at the elementary school, said he is concerned about the size of the middle school. At Black Mountain Elementary, he is only steps away from the next classroom. He’s scared about getting lost at the bigger school, a common fear among fifth-graders.

Preparing them to transition to sixth grade is comprehensive.

“We began working with the fifth-graders in March,” Firley said. “Following my visits to each classroom of fifth-grade students, a time was set for rising sixth-graders to visit the middle school. During those visits, students got to meet the administrators, elective teachers and our school resource officer. Rising sixth-graders were given a tour by sixth-grade ambassadors.

The ambassadors gave them a tour of the football field, cafeteria, sixth-grade hall, class rooms, gym and bus rider pickup, among other areas. In late April, parents visited the middle school to meet teachers, administration and support staff.

The OMS “Sneak Peek” held since April gave parents 15-minute opportunities to visit classrooms while classes are in session. The visits helped parents understand how classes are conducted on a middle school level.

Ellen Begley, a nationally certified counselor with 10 years experience as a school counselor, works with the Black Mountain Counseling Center. She said sixth-graders cannot be considered to be mini adults.

Sixth-graders “are on an emotional roller coaster, going through lots of changes in a few years,” she said. “This is not a time for parents and their children to dread but rather a time to celebrate as they move into times of self-discovery and growth.”

Lisa Gildner, Liam’s mother, said she isn’t worried about her youngest son moving from fifth to sixth grade.

“He is a well-grounded student and a sweet and smart kid with great friends and family members around him,” Gildner said. “Liam lives for baseball and is really looking forward to playing in middle school.”

O’Neil is confident that she is ready to start classes in middle school.

“I think I am prepared academically,” O’Neil said. “I worry about sixth-grade tests being hard and that the homework may be so hard that I can’t understand it.”

Both parents and students need to become familiar with the school’s website, which keeps parents up to date on what is going on at school. Administrators suggest talking to other parents who have children at Owen Middle. Ask questions about the lunchroom, lockers, teachers, electives and anything that you would like to know.

“Anxiety is contagious,” Begley said. “Parents need to take a deep breath and relax. The best way to ensure that the student is calm through this transition is for parents to be calm through the transition. Parents are their student’s primary model.”