In Johnston County, starting the school year might be routine for, say, a high school senior or even a fifth-grader. But for sixth-graders, the start of school brings many changes, including, often, a new campus and new classmates.
To prepare for those changes, rising sixth-graders at Smithfield Middle School recently attended a minicamp, where they learned to use combination locks, toured the campus and got advice on note-taking and organization.
“I’m nervous about not finding my room,” said Kaitlyn Nenni.
“I’m nervous about not knowing anyone and seeing the big eighth-graders,” added Kimberly Franco.
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Smithfield Middle students come from four feeder elementary schools – Selma, South Smithfield, West Smithfield and Wilson’s Mills. That means a lot of unfamiliar faces.
“I think the biggest adjustment is friends,” said Smithfield Middle Principal Jennifer Myers. “The second biggest adjustment is organization in middle school because they have so many different teachers.”
Smithfield Middle has 267 incoming sixth-graders; more than half came to the minicamp.
“I equate it to children starting kindergarten – they’re worried about who likes me and who doesn’t like me, and everything is new,” Myers said.
The minicamp is an annual event and this year for the first time, it offered a session for parents.
“I told the parents what to expect; that it’s really important for the students to have set routines when they get home, for homework time and play time,” Myers said.
At minicamp, Smithfield Middle introduced sixth-graders to the Cornell method for note-taking. For any subject, a student divides a piece of paper into two columns. The note-taking column, usually on the right, is about twice the size of the other column, which can hold, say, a math problem or key words from a social studies lecture.
The minicamp also had a session on bullying. Among other things, teacher Caroline Daily talked with students about not making fun of what someone is wearing. She also talked about how to treat a student who arrived halfway through the school year.
About four years ago, Smithfield Middle teachers began integrating a lecture on Internet bullying into the minicamp.
“Sometimes people hide behind the computer to do bullying,” said Daily, who encouraged the sixth-graders to tell a teacher or guidance counselor if they saw an Internet rumor about someone.
Last year, Smithfield Middle was the pilot school for a program that allowed students to report online incidents of bullying. Now students at all Johnston schools can do that.
Cory Smith, who teaches social studies at Smithfield Middle, said the concerns that worry sixth-graders are the same today as they were decades ago. “They’re worried about locks, changing for gym and getting trampled,” Smith said.
At Smithfield Middle, a student must open a combination lock three times in front of a teacher before the school will assign the student a locker.
Clayton Middle will hold its “boot camp” for sixth-graders on the first two days of school. Principal Stephen Baker said the students will tour the school, including the cafeteria, to get acquainted with how a normal day will be.
Clayton Middle will also hold a session on bullying. As at Smithfield Middle, Clayton students can report bullying online, although Baker said his students prefer reporting bullying to adults.
“We’ve seen that students are more likely to report bullying to an adviser or a teacher than online,” he said.