As we are in the midst of the second marking period of the school year, and preparing for parent-teacher conferences, I am continually amazed at how fast time goes. This reflection also leads me to review the evidence of success related to our transition activities that were designed and implemented to help students effectively transition during the key time periods of their educational career. Our focus for this school year was on the transition for students entering the middle school and the high school. Much time and energy were spent by staff and administrators in developing these important transition plans. These plans continue to be a work-in-progress, recognizing that transitions are a part of life, and a very important factor in the academic success students experience during the middle and high school years.
During our large-scale planning for the current Comprehensive Plan, our district staff, parents, and community members identified the need to focus on these key time periods, noting the significance of an effective transition on academic achievement , physical development, and social and emotional well-being. Thus, much time was spent in the development of structured transition activities for this school year. The activities for the targeted two levels included the following:
Transition Planning for Incoming 7th graders
Incoming 7th graders participated in Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) team-building and orientation activities. WEB is a structured middle school orientation and transition program that welcomes incoming students and makes them feel comfortable throughout their first year in the building. It holds the philosophy that “students can help students succeed” using a leadership development framework that trains 8th grade students to be mentors and leaders. These 8th grade student leaders assist the new students in a variety of ways throughout the school year, including the teaching of four academic lessons to their assigned 7th grade student groups. These 8th grade student leaders also lead a faculty exercise at an after-school middle school staff meeting, and model positive, growth mindset behaviors at WEB social activities. The WEB program activities are ongoing from August through June. Middle school teachers Renee Engle and Alyx Brehman were recently awarded funds through a Manheim Township Educational Foundation (MTEF) grant to continue expanding our WEB program. We are grateful to our Manheim Township Educational Foundation (MTEF) for financially supporting the program and its planned activities this year.
Transition Planning for Incoming 9th Graders
Our incoming 9th graders participated in Link Crew team-building activities. Link Crew is the upper-level extension of the WEB program, a high school transition, orientation, and mentoring program that welcomes new students and builds a comfort level during their first year at the high school. This high school program trains mentors from the 11th and 12th grade classes to be Link Crew leaders who facilitate various activities with the new students throughout the school year. The stronghold of the Link Crew program is its Student Leadership Program. The “Link Leaders” connect with their assigned 9th grade students throughout the school year on an individual basis. These leaders have experienced the challenges that a high school can pose to a new student, and understand the importance of relationships in building a smooth transition.
High school teachers Jennifer Deibler and Nicole Eshelman were instrumental in helping to bring Link Crew to the high school. They are both dedicated Link Crew Team Leaders, as shared by colleagues when nominating both of them for Employees of the Month in September.
In our continued effort to promote positive social-emotional health and well-being in our students, we recognize the need for them to feel safe and secure during these important transition periods. The WEB and Link Crew programs offer frameworks to make this happen. Adolescence is a critical time period in a child’s life, a time when social-emotional competence is necessary in order to experience success in school and in his/her personal and family life. Effective transitioning promotes a positive feeling of self-worth, thereby helping to create healthy peer and youth-adult relationships. It also helps to leverage the unique needs of adolescents, their internal search for identity, and their mindsets toward self and others.
The transition-related support my husband and I provide to our adolescent son involves helping him to be his own advocate. We encourage him to discuss problems and solutions with teachers on his own, but assist the process when needed. He is reminded that the school and the teachers want him to be successful; they believe in his success. We also help develop a positive attitude about school through empathizing with him about his feelings, and connecting on an emotional level. Reminders of how we felt as an adolescent – happy and secure, awkward and self-conscious – help bring a sense of normalcy to him during adolescence. The way he perceives himself directly affects how he acts and behaves.
Parenting a student in adolescence is both challenging and rewarding. Guiding them through the key transition periods with empathy, open communication, and acceptance are essential components for promoting success. Our WEB and Link Crew programs at the middle school and high school build upon those elements and teach the student leaders how to mentor and communicate with the new, incoming students in a meaningful way. Having empathy is an important factor in the process.
Employees of the Month for October and November
Our employee recognition for October and November goes to two educators – Lydia Meisel and Nicole Rieker.
Lydia Meisel was the Employee of the Month for October. She is a guidance counselor at Bucher Elementary, and was nominated by her colleagues for “constantly going above and beyond for our staff and our students!” They shared that “she is always ready to listen to staff members and create solutions for problems.” Her colleagues further noted, “Lydia always has so much on her plate, from scheduling class lessons, coordinating small group lessons, checking-in with students daily, contacting parents, and so much more… yet she will always find time to talk with you if you need her, or help teachers out in emergency situations. She is one of the hardest-working people at Bucher and definitely deserves this award!”
Nicole Rieker is a 3rd grade teacher at Neff Elementary. One of Nicole’s colleagues stated, “She takes current research and blends best practices through creative and collaborative ways. She puts an emphasis on students demonstrating their thinking and responds with positive feedback. She works tirelessly to make sure her students have engaging lessons which leads them to desire to work hard for her. Nicole looks at each student’s individual needs and finds the best strategies to help them be successful. Finally, she’s a fantastic teammate.”