Making the grade - seventh grade

"POULSBO - The transition from grade school to junior high can be difficult. There are new classrooms, new books, and new faces. So, Poulsbo Junior High is doing something different. A week ago they packed more than 200 incoming students on buses, drove them up to Island Lake Camp (along with a group of parents, educators and student volunteers), and had a retreat. What we were trying to do, said assistant principal Tony Bainbridge, is accomplish a lot of different things before school starts. The retreat had been something that Principal Gregg Epperson has wanted to do for a while, Bainbridge said. It became a reality Sept. 12. While there, students got a chance to learn about the expectations at the junior high. They played games, did group-building exercises, and ate lunch together. The students were accompanied by 14 parent volunteers. One of them was Melanie Mohler, the school's PTA president. We wanted to make a smoother transition for sixth-graders becoming seventh graders, Mohler said. We wanted to take that first step, so kids could feel real school spirit, and know what Panther pride is. We wanted them to become involved with their school immediately. Two hundred and seventy-five students made the trip. The retreat began after they were all driven to the site. There was a group meeting, and then the students were divided into 14 groups, each with a parent to lead. There were several stations set up, each with a different activities. The groups traveled from station to station until lunchtime, when they all ate together. Then they traveled the stations some more until the retreat ended with a song. What kind of activities were being held at the stations? Cassie Miller-Hart, an ASB officer at PJH, was there to help out, and explains: There was a lot of team building, where they had to work together and learn about each other. A lot of school spirit, she said. Miller-Hart was at the ASB station, where they explained what the school's ASB did and led the students in some cheers. We tried to get them excited, she said. Some of the other activities were a game of charades to help students learn the PJH handbook, sing-alongs, and a game that simulated crossing a river, where a team of students had to brainstorm a way to cross an imaginary river. Miller-Hart said she wished those games were there when she was starting at the junior high. It would have been really nice to have that (retreat), she said. It would have been a funner way to learn the handbook other than have it read to us. Mohler could see the difference in the incoming 7th graders by the end of the day. In the beginning they were all very quiet, shy ... reserved, she said. By lunchtime you could feel the energy in the groups. They changed the school song back and forth, and we had nothing to do with that. By lunchtime the kids were buddies. One of those kids was Brianna Oas, coming into Poulsbo Junior High from Vinland Elementary. She had already been to one of the junior high's events, a meet-the-teacher night. It was really nice, I was scared I'd get lost on the first day or something, Oas said. The retreat helped those first weeks go smoother, she said. I made some really neat friends, she said. Then I realized some of them were in my classes. "

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