Summit Middle School transitions program helps incoming sixth-graders be prepared |

Summit Middle School transitions program helps incoming sixth-graders be prepared

Sixth-grade student Jessica Fernandez and her class of fifth-graders at Dillon Valley Elementary got to meet middle school Principal Joel Rivera last spring before coming to the school. She said having her questions answered beforehand and getting to tour the school as part of the transitions program helped her feel ready to start sixth grade.
Kelsey Fowler / |

It’s one of the biggest fears about starting middle school — the dreaded lockers. These terrifying metal beasts stress out countless fifth-graders, but Summit Middle School is trying to alleviate a few of those anxieties.

The transition program at the middle school helps fifth-grade students across the county prepare for their next big step in schooling. Events throughout the year, including tours of the middle school, question and answer sessions and teambuilding workshops, give students tools to overcome their fears.

Summit Middle School principal Joel Rivera said he began developing the transitions program in 2012 when the Peak School was under construction, to talk about the different programs at the middle school, introduce students to teachers and show parents what opportunities were available.

“There wasn’t really a push to promote the school because we didn’t have to before,” he said. “Kids had to come here anyway. In Summit County there were never really options for middle school.”

“JumpStart was amazing for me. I loved the experience and having a whole bunch of new friends. I got to meet some teachers before I came into the school too.”
Audrey Buller

The first event kicks off in January, seven months before current fifth-grade students start middle school. Called “Snapshot,” it’s a panel of current sixth-grade students, a boy and girl from each elementary school, who answer questions about some of the biggest fears students have about attending middle school. Frequent fears range from bullying to lockers, homework and making friends. They also get to talk about their favorite parts of student life at the school: independence, new teachers and of course, being allowed to chew gum.

Seventh-grader Audrey Buller went to the Snapshot event while she was in fifth grade and served on the panel this past year as a sixth-grade expert.

“I think a lot of the questions are about bullying, or not being able to open your locker, or being lost because it is such a big school,” she said. “We’re just trying to get everybody ready to come into sixth grade so all of the worries kind of go away.”

Throughout January and February, Rivera meets with fifth-grade classes at all of the middle schools, also answering questions and getting to know his new students.

“I have to remind them that fifth grade isn’t over and they still have three more months,” he said. “It’s like senioritis at 10 years old.”

In April, the fifth-graders also visit the middle school, getting tours led by current students and meeting the teachers they’ll have in the fall. An ice cream social also gives parents the opportunity for some familiarity.

The pinnacle event of the transitions program, however, comes in August, before students go to school. Called “JumpStart,” this four-day event brings together the now incoming sixth-grade students for mornings of activities and teambuilding to get them excited and comfortable for the upcoming year.

“Everyone is tucked away in pockets of the county,” Rivera said. “They are locked in little areas and now they’re being thrown into a big pot. The world opens up for them.”

For Buller, who participated in JumpStart before starting middle school and also helped out this year as a seventh-grader, the program was the main reason she felt so secure coming to school.

“JumpStart was amazing for me,” she said. “I loved the experience and having a whole bunch of new friends. I got to meet some teachers before I came into the school too.”

She said the teambuilding was an important part of her JumpStart experience as well.

“You’re always making new friends,” she said. “I love it because now I have friends in sixth grade and they have someone older if they have questions. It’s a great experience for them, but also for us too.”

This year, the school has about 250 students in the sixth-grade class. More than 180 of those students participated in the JumpStart program, up from 113 in 2012. The cost has dropped from $60 to $20, and bus transportation is now provided as well.

Jessica Fernandez is a current sixth-grade student who participated in the school tours, and said having Rivera come to her class last spring helped alleviate some stress.

“You see how natural it is and you feel safer,” she said. “You get to know the teachers and people who will be around and know where to go.”

Rivera said he feels it is his responsibility to inform the students and parents what the school offers, rather than placing the burden of preparing fifth-grade students on the elementary schools. He said he is grateful for teachers letting him take up time in the classroom to work on this program.

“All of these things are designed to help kids with their fears,” he said. “I get lost and I’ve been here four years. We want our new students to be comfortable walking in the building the first day.”

For Fernandez, having the familiarity with the school and knowing where to go was the most helpful part of the transitions events she participated in.

“The first day of school, you feel all of this pressure but then you go into the first and second classes, and it’s not so bad,” she said. “It’s really helpful.”

Rivera said whether he stays at Summit Middle for the next 20 years or eventually moves on to another school, he wants to have a transitions program in place for the students. For some students like Buller, the program had an impact beyond just sixth-grade fears.

“Having done this already, it will definitely be easier when it comes to high school,” she said. “The middle school does such a good job with it, it’ll be way easier.”

In the end, Rivera said he wants nothing more than for a student to look back on his or her middle school experience and remember it being fun.

“I’m not saying this is a utopia, but our goal is just to teach kids how to handle conflict and grow up and learn,” he said. “It’s a very difficult thing to measure, somebody’s happiness. Is your academic success higher because you came and ate ice cream with us? Who knows. But there’s a level of comfort and students feel this is a safe environment.”

For more information about the transitions program at Summit Middle School, email Joel Rivera at

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