During the lazy, hazy days of mid-July, one wouldn't expect to find much going on at school. Families are vacationing or relaxing poolside, kids are sleeping late and hanging out at the mall.
But at Mount View Middle School this week, 20 incoming sixth-graders will attend Camp PreView at the Marriottsville school.
Special Education Team Leader Nan Brown started the camp three years ago for kids who need extra support to make the transition from elementary to middle school. According to Brown, some schoolchildren experience quite a bit of anxiety thinking about entering middle school, and she says the camp experience "eliminates a tremendous amount of fear" for pupils and their parents.
Fears that eighth-graders will give them a hard time, and fears about opening and closing lockers, or finding their way around the school are some of the most common concerns of incoming pupils. Teaching assistant Joanne Hoyle said they are "so afraid they're going to get lost" - the school "seems like such a big building and so unfamiliar."
"Scared" was the word repeated by a group of campers who were getting used to the cafeteria by going through a mock lunch line to have a snack. Initially, Shane Teal was scared of going to a new school. So was Ryan Dunton. Jordan Goldstein felt a little braver because his sister had attended Mount View, but he was worried because he didn't know any of the teachers.
Each boy said he felt better after seeing the school, meeting teachers and finding his way around. "I'm OK about it," said 11-year-old Andrew Miecznikoski.
The rest of the week entails learning the ropes. Each day, boys and girls rotate among activities designed to familiarize them with the routine of middle school in a casual manner.
Lockers loom as a hurdle to a majority of the children. Both a sign of independence and a source of fear, some worry about getting stuck in one. Andrew views his locker as a private diary: "Only you can open it," he said.
Locker assignments will be given out, and the pupils will practice with them daily to lessen the anxiety.
Games such as "Teacher Bingo," "Schedule Jeopardy" and a scavenger hunt help pupils learn teachers' names and important locations throughout the school. Activities with K'NEX building toys, and a hammering contest, are used to introduce technology education.
The opportunity to walk through their daily schedules alleviates fears of getting lost. Even though the first day of school is weeks away, notebooks will be assembled. Organizational tips for managing a new and unfamiliar workload are provided throughout the week.
When the kids who have spent a week at Camp PreView begin the school year, they will enter an environment "they're already familiar with," Brown said. She thinks the familiarity is a tremendous boost to the children's self-confidence. In previous years, she has seen the results, as pupils who attended the camp assume leadership roles when school begins.
Brown, who hopes to expand the program to accommodate 50 pupils next year, presented this model to the National Association of Middle Schools in October.
Principal James L. Evans commended Brown and the staff, many of whom volunteer their time to make the camp possible. Some reworked their summer schedules to participate. "I think it's fantastic how much time is put in for the good of their students," Evans said.
He can always tell when pupils are getting comfortable, he said, because the noise level rises. This group was no exception: They departed more boisterous and friendly than when they arrived.
Fear had been transformed into anticipation as Jordan Goldstein summed up his first day: "This school rocks!"