Summer program gives rising sixth-graders a taste of middle school life

Incoming sixth-grader Taylor, 10, believes it’s important to protect the bee population, and she thinks she knows ways to do so. “Planting flowers will help attract bees so they can make more honey,” she said as she put marigold seeds into a small decorated pot.

This was only one of the many lessons she and several other soon-to-be sixth-graders learned during their two weeks in the Summer Bridge program, made possible by the federally-funded Race to the Top grant the district received, at Holland Middle School.

Students planted flowers as one way to help improve the bee population, discussing the reasons bees were threatened, and ways they could help save them. It was all part of a day’s work that integrated the mini-ecology lesson into other areas such as mathematics, reading, improving critical thinking skills, leading discussions, and other subjects.

Summer Bridge programs are sponsored at eight middle schools across HISD — Holland, Stevenson, Hamilton, Ortiz, West Briar, Revere, Thomas, Deady. All eight schools feed into high schools that are part of the first Linked Learning cohort — in Holland’s case, Furr High. (For more about Linked Learning, see the article Linked Learning crafts new pathways for college and career.) Students at Summer Bridge not only gain a deeper understanding of core subjects, they also learn about their new school and community, and develop and refine social skills.

“They’re still a little nervous about being on the campus with the ‘big kids,’ but I think by the time we do all the activities, they’ll be ready to go and interact,” said Assistant Principal Jacquelyn Gentry, who filled in for a reading teacher this year.

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A typical morning at this year’s Holland summer program is spent with physical education coach Stephanie Collins, who offers an introduction to middle school and talks to students about the types of classes and teachers they’ll have, how to make friends, and how to navigate the campus. On some days, the middle school introduction is skipped in favor of a reading lesson. Students then transition to a mathematics lesson, which is done every day. After lunch, students learn strategies for being successful in middle school, such as how to listen for understanding, weighing pros and cons, and how to speak in a group setting.  A “philosophical chair” activity allows them to take a given subject, expound on it, and have discussions about it.

Earlier in the semester, Holland representatives went out to the three feeder elementary schools — Port Houston, R.P. Harris and Pleasantville — to encourage students to apply. And so far, Gentry said, the program seems to be helping the often difficult transition from elementary school to a life of varying classes and more independence.

“These students will serve as leaders in the fall, when everybody is nervous. These students will be prepared. They will be the ones saying,  ‘It’s easy, we know where to go, this is what you do,’” said Gentry. “They come in confident. They can help other students, when they see them struggling.”