Mattawoman holds boot camp for new sixth graders
Program aims to ease transition to middle school
Incoming sixth graders at Mattawoman Middle School got a taste of what middle school is like last week during a three-day boot camp.
The boot camp, which took place Tuesday through Thursday morning last week, introduced incoming sixth graders to the basics of life in middle school.
“Sixth graders are the most nervous, the most unsure, they’re the most overwhelmed, so I thought if we could bring in sixth graders before school starts, teach the procedures, teach them how to get into their lockers even, then it would decrease a lot of anxiety on the first day of school,” Principal Sonia Blue Jones said.
The program was a first for Mattawoman, the only middle school in the county to develop a program for its incoming middle school students, according to Jones.
Jones said that out of approximately 320 incoming sixth graders, 175 registered for the sixth grade boot camp, exceeding her expectations.
“It has been phenomenal,” she said.
Jones said she handed the execution of the idea to her sixth grade administrator, Tiyata Winters.
“She grabbed hold of this idea with both hands and executed the idea as if I had done it myself,” Jones said, adding that the idea of calling it a “boot camp” reflects the camp’s “fun yet serious” tone.
“I didn’t want to call it an orientation camp or ‘fun in the sun at Mattawoman,’ or something fluffy like that. I wanted the kids to know we’re going to have fun, but this is serious stuff, and you need to be focused,” Jones said.
Jones said the boot camp has covered everything from how to work in groups, signing up for and earning points for the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, signing up and eligibility for extracurricular activities, conflict resolution, self advocacy, and even a “fashion show,” in which teachers modeled what not to wear to school.
“We’ve done so many workshops, it’s really been amazing,” Jones said.
On Thursday, they also took part in a financial literacy lesson; students were given Mattawoman “money” based on their fifth grade final report card grades, which they could use in the development of a monthly budget. They could use the money to purchase what sort of car, phone, entertainment, clothing and accommodations they would want as an adult, by visiting different stations around the gymnasium.
“We wanted them to get the idea that they have to work hard for the good things in life,” Winters said.
Kayleen Smith, 11, said she was really nervous about starting a new school before coming to the boot camp.
“In fifth grade, I was really scared about being promoted to the sixth grade, but when I came to the boot camp, I said, ‘I can make new friends here, meet new teachers and get to know people more,’” Kayleen said.
Jamee Frazier, 11, said she was also nervous about coming to a new school before attending the Mattawoman boot camp.
“I think coming here has helped me prepare a lot for sixth grade,” Jamee said.
Jones said she hopes the program will also help foster strong relationships between students and staff.
“I believe that strong relationships are paramount to student success,” Jones said. “Now I can call some of them by name on the first day of school, I’ve watched their personalities, so I have some idea of who brings what to the classroom.”
Winters said she hopes the boot camp will help alleviate the anxiety of coming to middle school.
“They’re starting a whole new school,” Winters said, “they used to be the ‘top dogs’ of elementary school and now they’re the ‘babies’ of middle school, so I want them to be less anxious.”
She said another benefit is the opportunity to form new connections with other students and with teachers.
Julian Scrivens, a Mattawoman Middle School teacher, helps incoming sixth grader A.J. Evans-Jones pick what kind of car he would like to “buy” during a financial literacy project at the school’s three-day boot camp last week.