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By Silvia Foster-Frau, Thursday, July 14, 2016
Go to the article in The Hour here
NORWALK — In a maze of twists and turns, large, lumbering seventh- and- eighth-graders link arms with others their age. They’re comfortable in their own skin, their friends already established. Large cavernous holes, called lockers, wait in the sidelines for one of these kids to push you into them, to swallow you whole.
Through the eyes of a fifth-grade student, middle school can look pretty terrifying.“I was scared about getting shoved into a locker because I saw a movie about it,” Eymani Rosa, 11, said.
“The eighth and seventh-graders scare me if they’re bullies,” Jeffrey Peralta, 11, said. To aid incoming sixth-grade students in the transition process from elementary school, Roton Middle School and the Carver Foundation of Norwalk have launched the Roton Summer Academy. The 5-week program is designed to help the incoming sixth-grade students from Brookside and Rowayton elementary schools get accustomed to the middle school environment.
“One of the complaints parents had pointed out was they wished there was a better transition program, mainly because kids in grade five get anxious about grade six,” Joe Vellucci, principal at Roton, said.
The pilot transition program comes on the heels of Superintendent Steven Adamowski’s initiative to redesign local middle schools. Recent studies show sixth-grade students are underperforming and achievement levels in all four local middle schools are below those of high school and elementary school in many subjects.The public-private partnership between the school district and the Carver Foundation makes the program free to all its kids. Of the 150-some incoming sixth-graders, 56 students enrolled.
“There was really no criteria except wanting to be here. Our hope was those who would benefit the most from the transition program would be here,” Vellucci said.
The Carver Foundation, which relies on private donations, has found itself 40 percent short of the $61,000 it costs to run the program in total, said Executive Director Novelette Peterkin. Carver is planning on holding a fundraiser in September to help raise the money for the shortfall, she said, and in the meantime is looking for donations from community members to keep afloat.
“The kids are learning how to organize,” said Peterkin. “Their locker, the classrooms, all the things that might be scary for a sixth-grader, they will already have had a dry run.”
“They’re going to be ahead of the game come September,” Vellucci said.
Split between academics and “enrichment” courses, the 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. day mimics the Roton Middle School experience as closely as possible , said Jose Perez, the Roton Transition Academy coordinator.“It’s not just about academics, the real concern is to get kids to feel good about themselves,” Vellucci said.
In addition to the three teachers and four para-professionals that instruct the students — all of whom regularly teach at Roton — a social worker comes in once a week to help the kids prepare socially and emotionally, and Perez teaches a weekly class called “Getting to know Roton.” This week, he taught the kids how to work the locks on the lockers.
“One of the big fears is the locker — it’s terrifying to them,” Perez said, reflecting the fear that Eymani said she had before the program started.
Three weeks into the program, and Eymani and Jeffrey are already starting to feel more at home.
Jeffrey was mostly afraid of getting bullied and getting lost, but now, at least one of those fears is assuaged.
“Now I know how to get around the school and how to open a locker,” Jeffrey said.
Eymani said she’s not afraid of the lockers anymore, and is pretty excited to start decorating her own.
“They told me that no one can fit in the lockers, so that’s a good thing,” she said.“I’ve learned how to organize, so I’m excited to design my own locker with posters and pictures,” she said.
In addition to letting the kids bond with the teachers that could very well be their instructors this fall, the students also get the chance to make friends with other incoming sixth graders before the start of the school year.
“I don’t have the most friends but the friends I do have are usually involved in a lot of activities so I don’t get to see them as much,” Eymani said. “But I’ve met new friends here and I got closer to them.”
Jeffrey’s parents made him go to the program the first day. But after that, it’s been all him.
“They made me do it and I didn’t want to,” he said. “But on the first day I came home and asked if I can go tomorrow.”