By Bill Toscano
It’s an easy downhill walk from Whitehall Elementary School to Whitehall Central School, but for sixth-graders leaving sixth grade for seventh in the other building, it can seem like scaling a cliff.
That’s why, after the winter break, each of the 58 sixth-graders will get a chance to spend a full day in seventh grade, with a student specifically assigned to help them through the day.
“They get so tense and nervous about coming down here, this gives them a chance to get those jitters out of the way,” said guidance counselor Topher Montville, who is coordinating the program for the third year. “This will give them their first taste of it.”
The students will come, two or three at a time, and will be matched with a seventh-grader who has similar interests. “We try to match kids so they get to see the classes they are interested in,” Montville said. “If a kid is on band or chorus, we’ll try to match them with a seventh-grader who is.”
The visiting students are dropped off at the high school and meet their shadow in the front hallway, then follow that student’s entire schedule, including gym and lunch.
“It’s all about expectations. They are held to the same standards as our students,” said Montville, who has already visited the sixth-graders along with Dean of Students Gregg Chappell for a session called “How to survive as a seventh-grader.”
The visiting students keep a journal of their day in seventh grade and are also asked to do an evaluation, as are the seventh-graders and the parents of both students.
Teachers also evaluate in the program. “It’s critical to get feedback,” Montville said. “That’s how we make it better.”
Setting up the visit is intricate, he added and asked that parents whose students have to miss school on the day of their seventh-grade visit call the guidance office as soon as they know.
Montville made a point of observing that he feels the success of the program comes from both student participation and the efforts of faculty and staff who are part of the planning and preparation, as well as taking part in the program itself.
“I know it may seem corny but I feel strongly that without the support of everyone involved, we would not see the level of success we have been experiencing,” Montville said. “It’s extremely rewarding to see the smiles and read the evaluations that express this was a worthwhile experience.”
In the end, he said, it comes down to this. “It’s a much smoother transition for the kids who come to something like this.”