Camp focuses on school, life changes

Sixth grade students participate in a team-building exercise called “one-timer” as Heidi Terry from the Office for Prevention looks on.

Sixth grade students participate in a team-building exercise called “one-timer” as Heidi Terry from the Office for Prevention looks on.

Middle School is about transitions.

There’s the transition from the comfortable and strictly-structured world of elementary school to the less-structured and unfamiliar environment of middle school.

There are also the mental and physical transitions from childhood to adolescence and the confusion and difficulties that may accompany those changes.

In an effort to ease those anxieties and help students learn how to effectively handle transitions, Whitehall Middle School partnered with the Council for Prevention last week to host a three-day transition and orientation program for incoming sixth graders dubbed Railroader Camp.

“The camp is about helping students make that transition and give them the foundation and resources they need to start off the school year,” said Topher Montville, coordinator of the camp and middle school guidance counselor.

The camp kicked off last Wednesday and for the first two days students met with representatives from the Council for Prevention. Nearly two-thirds of this year’s sixth grade class attended the camp.

During the sessions, students talked about short-term and long-term goals, peer pressure, bullying, and self esteem. They also worked on team building exercises and communication skills.

During one exercise, students broke into two groups and were tasked with working together to throw as many plastic balls into a small bucket as they could. Before the exercise, they established goals and tried to hash out a plan as to how they would meet those goals.

Heidi Terry from the Council on Prevention said the program, which is funded through the Washington County Youth Bureau, is targeted toward sixth graders because they are going through a period of transition, both in school and life.

“We use the Botvin Life Skills program curriculum to teach kids transition skills they can use throughout their life,” she said.

Life Skills is an evidence-based program that promotes skills such as decision-making, goal setting, and problem-solving, with activities that encourage students to practice the skills they learn throughout the camp, Montville said.

The camp also incorporated aspects of the bully prevention program, such as Olweus.

Montville said the camp is about addressing issues before they become too ingrained. He described it as a proactive approach to encouraging good behavior instead of a reactive approach to bad behavior.

The final day of the camp, Friday, students had an opportunity to use their lockers and throughout the camp they used the same rooms they’ll use throughout the year.

They then had a barbecue at Huletts Landing where students, parents and teachers had the opportunity to mingle and address any lingering concerns they may still have.

Montville said the program, which is the third “transition” event students have attended in the last year, as well as a new student orientation held Tuesday, help set the stage for a more productive learning environment because students aren’t preoccupied with their anxieties.

“It’s about striking a good chord at the beginning of the year and getting off to a good start,” he said.

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