Seventh-graders prepare for nervous middle school jump

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 5, 2001

Like many seventh-graders, Diamond Morgan is nervous about starting a new school next week.

&uot;I’m scared,&uot; she said while attending orientation at Robert Lewis Middle School Thursday. &uot;I’m coming from Holy Family. There’s a lot of kids over here.&uot;

Morgan is leaving a school of about 130 students to attend one with more than 700.

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It’s quite an adjustment but her mother, Gwen Morgan, thinks she’s ready for the challenge.

&uot;She’s ready to take that step and adjust to the changes,&uot; Gwen Morgan said.

Diamond Morgan’s two older brothers went to Natchez Middle School – the school’s name was changed to Robert Lewis Middle School this summer – and Morgan wants to attend the same school where she wants to continue to sing and play her flute.

&uot;She’s looking forward to it,&uot; her mother said.

Shamika Dukes said she likes the idea of having more freedom as a seventh-grader at Robert Lewis Middle School.

Although she wants to spend time with friends who did not attend her elementary school, she is still somewhat nervous about attending a new school.

&uot;It’s going to be a lot of older and taller kids than me, and harder work,&uot; Dukes said.

The mixed feelings of these two girls are normal, say educators who work with seventh-graders. When students leave the familiarity of an elementary school setting, it can frighten them, said Cynthia Smith, principal at Robert Lewis Middle School.

&uot;They’re coming in from an elementary situation where their hands have been held,&uot; Smith said.

Parents and school staff no longer need to hold students hands in middle school, but they must keep a &uot;watchful eye&uot; on the students.

&uot;We’re giving them that freedom with the watchful eye of structure,&uot; Smith said.

Lorene Mock, coordinator of the parent’s center for the Natchez-Adams School District, echoed Smith’s statements.

&uot;(In) the elementary environment teachers have a tendency to do more overseeing … but when they get to the middle school teachers don’t usually do that,&uot; Mock said.

Suddenly, students have to deal with more teachers, harder work and numerous class changes.

They also must deal with children who did not attend their elementary school and often fear being placed in different classes from their friends.

When this happens, seventh-graders have to realize they will make new friends, officials said.

&uot;They just have to … get in there and find their identity,&uot; Mock said.

To help seventh-graders adjust, the middle school uses a team approach to teaching, Smith said.

This means that most of the classes are next door to each other with a group of teachers who will know the students. It also limits the seventh-graders’ movement around the school, Smith said.

Dr. Scott Fleming, administrator at Cathedral School, said a group of high school students on a peer ministry team will assist its seventh-graders this year.

&uot;They’re going to take them under their wing,&uot; Fleming said.

For example, the older students will walk with the seventh-graders during orientation and &uot;sort of give them a sense of belonging which is very important,&uot; Fleming said.

Since the seventh-grade is a transition year, its helps to have the experience of an older student for help.

&uot;It’s a leadership-by-example approach,&uot; Fleming said.

School officials advise parents to keep the lines of communication open with their middle school student. Parents should listen to what their child has to say but also pay attention to how they act.

&uot;The whole thing is try to be attuned to your child,&uot; Smith said.

Parents should look for changes in behavior and mood changes.

&uot;All of these things are communication tools that the child is using to a parent and to us as a staff, Smith said.

An adolescent needs to be aware that adults want to help him and hopefully a parent will serve as that key adult, Smith said.

She compares middle school behavior as similar to that of a 2-year-old child.

&uot;They are seeking – within reason – that independence from their parents … so they’re going to try to defy that parent holding on to them,&uot; Smith said.

These children need the freedom to make their own choices, but only to a point, Fleming said.

&uot;Although it’s a time for greater responsibility that responsibility needs to be monitored,&uot; he said.