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Jumping into junior high

by: Vern Uyetake, Former Lake Oswego Junior High School substitute teacher Aaron Schmidt demonstrates how to open a combination lock to a group of incoming seventh graders who will use similar locks when they start school in September. “You will no longer be nervous, that’s my guarantee,” he told them. “You’ll be locker experts.”

There's a lot to love about making the leap from elementary school to junior high - the potential for more friends, cool lockers and a wider selection of cafeteria food.

There's also a lot to worry about - more teachers, more homework, more responsibility and remembering those darn locker combinations.

Not to mention you're expected to morph from a kid into a mini-adult.

'If you can't be in the classroom and follow directions, the teacher will find something else for you to do, like writing a report,' Aaron Schmidt explained to a group of incoming seventh graders on Tuesday. 'In any case, it won't be something fun.'

Schmidt - a former Lake Oswego Junior High School substitute teacher and Lakeridge High School graduate - knows a thing or two about the ins-and-outs of navigating the awkward junior high years.

Now a seventh grade math teacher at Pendleton Middle School, he returned to his hometown this week to teach three 'Jump Start into Junior High' courses created by the Community School to address students' concerns about transitioning into seventh grade.

At Lake Oswego Junior High School on Tuesday, a group of 10 students openly expressed their excitement and hesitations about moving from their tight-knit elementary schools to a 300-plus class of mostly strangers. Schmidt, in turn, helped to quell their worries by explaining scheduling, expectations and allowing them to practice opening those pesky locks.

Class exercises, such as creating a poster and taking a 45-minute school tour, covered topics ranging from working with teachers to fitting in with peers.

'I felt really good at the end of the day yesterday,' Schmidt said. 'The kids were really confident. In the morning, they were nervous.'

Although multiple school-sponsored orientations aim to answer parents' and students' questions, any additional insight - such as the 'Jump Start into Junior High'

program - can be beneficial.

'The more time they spend hearing about the school and spending time in the building, the better off they are,' said LOJHS Principal Ann Gerson.

Allie Pond, who graduated to from Oak Creek Elementary, is worried about balancing her homework and making it from class to class a whopping seven times each day ('I'm really bad with maps,' she said).

On the other hand, she's looking forward to leaving the 'little kids' behind and exploring a fresh environment with all new teachers.

'We feel grown up and bigger than we used to,' she said. 'Like, I want vacation and no homework, but then again, it's going to be so much fun to go here.'

The potential for more friends seemed to be the biggest perk discussed on Tuesday. Schmidt noted that students don't need to be friends with everybody, but they should respect everybody.

'How many of you know what a clique is?,' he asked. Everybody raised their hand. 'There are many different groups of people in this school. They may look different, but it's not OK to make fun of them.'

Often, entering junior high school proves more difficult for parents rather than their kids, Gerson said.

The transition sometimes creates a 'power struggle' between parent and child as the child tries to separate themselves from the family unit. The parent, meanwhile, tries their best to keep in touch with their child.

'There's a lot of hand-holding in elementary school,' Gerson said. 'I think kids are ready to come here, developmentally.'

It's an odd time in students' lives, Gerson said, with added pressure to conform and become accepted by their peers, which could require having the latest clothes or technological gadgets.

'Instead of their parents being the center of their universe, they look to their peers,' she said. 'It's an age of conformity. They want to be like everyone else. They don't even want to be singled out as TAG (Talented and Gifted) or especially Special Ed.'

And it simply wouldn't be junior high without the raging hormones, the crushes and ultimately, the insecurities. Meanness and bullying becomes much more pronounced at the secondary level, Gerson said.

Thinking processes shift, too, from concrete to more abstract.

'Some kids are confident, real leaders,' when they enter junior high, Gerson said. 'That's unusual though. You see it much more in eighth grade.'

By the time they move on to high school, they're calmer, more collected and familiar with their class.

They're also, well, enormous.

Gerson noted she sees a major physical difference between the kids who enter seventh grade and those who leave two years later.

'Not only do they grow, but they're growing everywhere,' she said.