During the first few days of school, students in Grade 6 and Grade 9 participated in special programming: the Grade 6 Bootcamp and the Grade 9 Success Program, respectively. The main purpose of these programs is to help students with the transitions into the Middle and Upper Schools.

The Grade 6 Bootcamp has been several years in the making. Kristin Gilliland, the Grade 6 Coordinator, said, “it has been evident that the Grade 6 students needed more support and guidance at the start of the school year, beyond what we offered on the first day, in order to help ease the transition from Primary to Middle School.” When it came to planning, Middle School Assistant Principal Eric Beck said, “we had to figure out a way to balance this special programming with structure, because part of the point is for the students to get used to the structure of changing classes and being in the Middle School. So we landed on Period 1 of each day of the first week of school.”

The first part of Grade 6 Bootcamp was focused on building a digital community in the Middle School. Students read and discussed the WIS Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), and also focused on the rules around plagiarism, bullying, and other technology policies. They also received key tips on managing the technology they will now use daily: how to use onCampus, proper email etiquette, and how to organize their email inboxes and Google Drives. 

Grade 6 Bootcamp also covered Middle School procedures, executive functioning skills, and mental health support. Students had sessions with Middle School Learning Specialist Michaela Audette and Middle School Counselor Marilyn Wilson Odhiambo. They talked about their social and emotional needs, and how they can practice mindfulness, perseverance, managing their emotions and impulses, self-motivation, and resilience.

Grade 6 Bootcamp ended with a focus on personal responsibility. Eric said, “we explained that in Middle School, there is more freedom than in Primary School, but with that freedom also comes more responsibility. We’re trying to help and support them by explaining clear boundaries and rules from the beginning, so they cannot use the excuse ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was a rule.’ We also emphasized that they are responsible for their learning. For example, if, at the end of a class, they don’t understand something, they have to proactively reach out to the teacher and ask questions. Or, they should know what is expected of them by the next time that class meets. They have to write it down and be prepared.”

Kristin added, “The week ended with a chance for Grade 6 students to reflect on what they had learned and explore questions they still had. Additionally, the support and guidance doesn't stop after Bootcamp ends; students will further explore and expand their skills and knowledge in these areas in their advisory groups as well as their academic classes. Bootcamp just helped set them up with the necessary foundation.”

Much like Grade 6 Bootcamp, the Grade 9 Success Program was born out of the idea that the transition from Middle to Upper School is a heavy lift. Assistant Principal for Grades 9 & 10 Allison Ewing said, “it’s a difficult transition — not just from Middle to Upper School, but also Grade 8 to Grade 9. There’s a lot of growth that happens during that time, physically and mentally, and it can be more difficult than the transition from Grade 12 to university. There is so much going on in the mind of a Grade 9 student, as they’re trying to figure out where they fit in.

“The idea was that while Grade 9 students will eventually get this information (like how to organize their Google Drives, how often to check their emails, how to use a calendar, or understanding their learning styles), what if there was a way to front-load it, so that they start off the year more informed and ready to hit the ground running?” With the agreement of the Grade 9 teachers and advisors, Allison organized the program to take place during the mornings on the first two days of school. She explained, “This year, in particular, this kind of program was needed just to get them used to being back in class together, and to reinforce what it means to submit something on time, or late, etc.” 

Lauren Olson, the Tregaron Research and Media Specialist, talked to the students about the academic honesty policy, and gave them tools to help avoid any issues related to academic dishonesty. The students also heard from Upper School Learning Specialist Lin Robbins-Doyle and Upper School Counselor Kelsey Morgan. As Allison explained, “what I really liked about the program is that we introduced them to the people they should know but may not see every day, and the first time they’re meeting them is positive, not negative. We’re trying to cultivate positive relationships so that if the time comes that the students need to meet with these people, their first interaction is not negative. I feel it’s important to have these positive connections from the very beginning.”

Allison highlighted another benefit of the program: “Regardless of whether they were here at WIS in Middle School or if they’re new, the Grade 9 students have all started off on the same footing. It’s an even playing field for everyone; there’s not this sense that some know more than others, because everyone has the same information.”

So far, the feedback from both programs has been positive. Students, and their teachers, are grateful for the extra time spent working on these transitions, knowing that they will also be reinforced throughout the school year. Hopefully, these programs will become annual rites-of-passage for all WIS students!