A head start on middle school

Fairfield program gives students a jump on their new environment
Rising sixth-graders at Fairfield Middle School got a taste of their new environment by participating in the school’s first program aimed to help them smoothly transition to middle school using the IB philosophy.

Fairfield teachers Garry Marshall and Gina Brooks created the Falcon Institute after Dr. Dana Bost, the school’s principal, asked them to spearhead a summer program that would improve students’ performance in math, reading and writing.

“We saw where, in sixth grade, the deficiencies were, so I wanted to have an idea to bridge those gaps before the kids actually get here in September,’” said Brooks. “We also thought about just the fact that they are coming from fifth grade to sixth grade. What are some of the challenges they face? One is organization. One is technology. So we just incorporated all of those components into the [program].”

During everyday class sessions, students used their laptops to participate in discussions via an online classroom tool called School Space. Also, in their technology class, students were taught how to use programs that most of their peers have not been introduced to yet.

“These are kids coming from elementary school, so they haven’t even been on a computer yet. At the end of this little institute, they can make a word document, an Excel sheet, a PowerPoint, … [and] movies,” said IB coordinator and science department chair Karyn Edwards. “Some of the kids are very good with technology; [they] catch on like that. They come around and help when I can’t get around to people.”

Because Fairfield is now an IB school, the Falcon Institute strives to incorporate the IB principles of critical thinking, problem solving, exposure to multiple viewpoints and community service into their curriculum. Edwards pointed out that by allowing students to discover their niches, they can better understand how they can serve their school and surrounding communities.

Many of the rising sixth-graders said they agreed that the institute has helped them to become familiar and more comfortable with their new surroundings. Student S’Donte Dowton said that the Falcon Institute has made learning more exciting. “I like it when we do math stuff, and also I even like it when we do games and quizzes,” he said.

In the fall, the sixth-graders will take a regional test that Marshall says will help determine the summer program’s effectiveness. “We’ve got a baseline of where they were before the program, and we are going to compare that to where they are after and then see if any of the programs have made an impact or not,” he added.

To keep the students active, the Falcon Institute had what Brooks described as a “miniature field day.” During “Thrilling Thursdays,” students had the chance to win an ice cream social by competing in teamwork events. “It’s the middle of the summer and they’re sitting in the classroom for four hours a day, so we said at least once a week we will have time for team building and free time,” said Marshall.
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The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club meets the second and fourth Mondays of each month from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. at the E. Bruce Heilman Dining Center at the University of Richmond. Each meeting features breakfast and an interesting speaker. For details, call Pete Sizemore at 288-0999. Full text

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