It seemed at times like a remedial class in vocabulary. More than a dozen rising sixth-graders were attending a middle- school preparation event that highlighted words they will likely hear over and over in the coming years.

Words like "locker," "preparation," "bullying," "research projects," "organization" and "peer pressure."

"School is a little bit more challenging this year," said Sarah Russo, teens' instructor at the Howard County library system's Elkridge branch, which hosted "Movin' Up To Middle School" this week. The annual event uses books, presentations and games to help prepare students for the transition from elementary school. The first day of school is Monday.

"You're going to have a big increase in your homework; you're going to have a big increase in your projects," Russo continued. "Anywhere you go, from now until college, you're going to have good teachers and you're going to have bad teachers.

"Pay attention," Russo said. "Make eye contact with your teachers, because if you're looking out the window, he or she will call you on it. Listen to classroom discussions. Ask questions. Speak up. And even if you're not in school, find out what's happening in the world … wherever you get your news."

Many of the students already showed signs of traits often found at middle school age. Some girls had glittery attire, oversized earrings and multiple bracelets.

And when Russo asked what they missed most about elementary school, many offered the same refrain: recess, physical education and dismissal.

Maggie Hicks of Elkridge was among those who broke rank, saying she missed technology and computers.

"I'm looking forward to science and taking Spanish," she said.

Russo said the library began the event about four years ago after it saw an increasing demand from fifth-graders with concerns about moving on to middle school. She said the library sought to reintroduce the library resources to the students, many of whom had not been regular users since preschool.

"It's really more of a social class," said Russo. "They're coming from different elementary schools and pouring into one middle school; they're making new friends and saying goodbye to many friends who are going to a different middle school."

Russo stressed organization, encouraging the students to use calendars, agendas and assignment books. She also suggested the kids finish all of their homework as soon as they arrive home "so it's finished and out of the way, so you can hang out with your friends."

Russo also tried easing kids' fears about such subjects as math, informing them that the library offers free online homework help each day from 2 p.m. to midnight on every subject.

Students were most eager to talk about lockers and combination locks. "Remember: right, left, right," said Russo, explaining how to turn the rotating dial to open the lock.

And Russo also spoke about bullying, which some students said they know is a concern in some schools. She encouraged the students to tell an adult and not worry about being labeled a tattletale.

Some students, like Mwaura Thuku of Ellicott City, said they went on tours of their new schools last spring. Mwaura said he is looking forward to home economics "so I can cook for my parents on Mother's Day and Father's Day."

Maggie Hicks said she hasn't visited her middle school, but she has a friend who goes there and has told her what to expect.

"She told me most of the teachers are very nice," Maggie said. "Just don't get on their bad side, or you will regret it."

Maggie's mother, Anne Hicks, said that while she has no anxieties about her first child heading to middle school, she is concerned about her daughter's organization. But she added, "I think she'll be OK with switching classes. She's very smart, so I'm not worried at all academically."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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