In the past, 6th graders were well prepared for the beginning of middle school due to intense preparation on the part of the current 5th grade teachers and the 6th grade Grade Chairs, Susan McMillan and Gary Brown. However, in the crazy year 2020, 5th graders missed out on some crucial preparation for their first year of middle school.
This year 95 new 6th grade students entered Clarkson Hall, and for them, having to make the transition during COVID was even more difficult than usual. According to 6th grade girls’ Grade Chair Susan McMillan, “getting to know each other was probably harder for the kids who hadn’t been in Love Hall.” 6th grade is a huge year to make the friends that the students will have through high school. However, with COVID protocols preventing the mixing of classes, the 6th graders have had a tough time talking with their friends. 6th grader Evie Baker says, “I don’t have as many classes with my friends. I don’t get to see them as much.” 6th grader Ramey Hall, agrees: “You also don’t get much time to socialize with people. So it’s hard to make friends, and that’s a big part of school—socializing with your friends.”
Another critical aspect of the 6th grade experience is the students’ conference with both their parents and their respective Grade Chair. These conferences develop the relationships between the students and the Grade Chair. Typically, the parents would be in person and sitting with the student and the Grade Chair. McMillan thinks that Zoom comes in as a huge benefit, as parents can sit in more easily, rather than having to make the drive to campus from home or work. “The big benefit has been Zoom and being able to have parents sit in so easily when I’m meeting with a kid like the check-ins at the beginning of the year,” says McMillan. “For the first time, I had the parents there, and it was just great because then I can foster that connection with the parents and the kids.” The Grade Chairs are feeling the burden of not fostering relationships with the students. McMillan says, “It’s the girls coming into my office and doing their homework during office hours. I miss that so much. Yeah, whether they’re working or not. It’s just nice to touch base with them.” Boys Grade Chair Gary Brown agrees and says that what he misses most about pre-COVID teaching is, “The interaction . . . I love talking to kids about like their game on the weekend and getting to know them and like hover over their desk and joke around with them. And that part’s just been limited.”
However, there are some benefits to being a student during COVID. “I think the classes like the students always have their books because they have to carry their backpack. So that’s been better,” says Brown. “ And I think the coursework, I think students have been better because of the built-in office hours just academically. I think they’ve had more time to do their work.” McMillan agrees with Brown: “Well, I joke about how much cleaner my locker commons is. The kids always have their stuff for class.”
The Westminster Lower School team of 5th grade teachers also tried to prepare the current 6th graders for their transition over the pandemic. The 5th graders in Love Hall missed shadow day, usually an event in mid-April where the 5th graders come down to Clarkson Hall and tour the building; this year they just logged onto another Zoom class. Some 6th graders logged onto 7th grade Zoom classes instead of 6th grade classes. McMillan says the biggest experience the kids missed out on was seeing the building. This year the teachers plan on having the kids come down early one morning to tour the building one homeroom at a time. Westminster Lower School 5th grade teacher Taylor Stegall says that it was hard to prepare the kids when the teachers didn’t even know what school would look like in the fall of 2020. However, the students have adapted to the new version of the Westminster Middle School. They are doing fantastic, despite the challenges they have faced over the past year. They have adapted well and are confident in their transition to 7th grade in the future.