5th Grade Asset Building Days!

Think back to when you were in 5th grade. It was such a great year for elementary school because you were finally the “big kids” of the school. The back of the bus was yours. You got to be a book buddy and every other grade looked up to you.

However, if you remember the next year, the move to middle school was not so care-free and enjoyable. The transition to 6th grade is challenging, and in these times of bullying and increased celebrity media drawing attention to body image, the transition year has become even more difficult for youth.

Think back to when you were in 5th grade. It was such a great year for elementary school because you were finally the “big kids” of the school. The back of the bus was yours. You got to be a book buddy and every other grade looked up to you.

However, if you remember the next year, the move to middle school was not so care-free and enjoyable. The transition to 6th grade is challenging, and in these times of bullying and increased celebrity media drawing attention to body image, the transition year has become even more difficult for youth.

Last year, 5th grade teacher at Strong Elementary School, Mrs. Maureen Roth, said it would be great to get all students going to middle school together to meet each other before the first day of school. STEPS and parent, Kelly Del Debbio then banded together to make Mrs. Roth’s thoughts a reality. In partnering with YMCA Camp Sloper, STEPS, Kelly and Jay Jaronko, Outdoor Program Director at Sloper, came up with the concept of a “5th Grade Asset Building Day.”

Each 5th grade student who would be attending JAD Middle School attended this asset day on May 15th, 2012 and all 5th grade students who would be attending JFK Middle School attending the asset day on May 17th, 2012.

Each day began with an opening speech from the Assistant Principals of each middle school. Mr. Palmeiri, Asst. Principal of DePaolo talked to the students about the importance of building assets and getting prepared for middle school. Mrs. Pamela Aldi, Asst. Principal of Kennedy discussed the values she finds important in being an Eagle: respect yourself, respect others and strive for excellence.

Students right from the beginning of the day were excited about building assets and eager to start their middle school journey!

What got them even more excited was a gift presented to each future 6th grader from STEPS. Each was presented with a locker mirror for their middle school years that had the Ghandi quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Included with this gift was a brief letter that stated:

“To a future 6th grade student,

Moving from elementary school to middle school is a big transition, but it’s also a big accomplishment! In this bag is a locker mirror. Place this in your locker on the first day of school to always remember that your family, school and community care about you. Also remember that when you look in the mirror, you’ll see the person who can change the world and make a positive difference in someone’s life; YOU!

STEPS wishes you all the best and good luck next school year!”

The most important part of these days though was the asset building workshops. Students participated in 3 asset workshops in the morning session and 3 in the afternoon, focusing on:

#5 Caring School Climate

#7 Community Values Youth

#15 Positive Peer Influence

#32 Planning and Decision Making

#34 Cultural Competence

#35 Resistance Skills

To build each asset, YMCA Camp Sloper staff trained themselves on the importance of each asset and designed a workshop geared towards helping students understand something about themselves, about others, about the community and all relevant and vital to learn for their transition year to middle school.

In the Caring School Climate workshop, students worked with a staff member to design an “ideal” middle school, including how people would treat each other and the environment. Next students discussed what they could personally do themselves to help make that environment a reality next year. Finally, each group designed their own class philosophy.

The Community Values Youth workshop attacked the concepts of what people value, the differences or similarities of adults and kids, and what youth want, need and receive from adults so that they feel important. Students walked away understand that it’s not an Ipod we value, but our friends and family. Also, students walked away with a better understanding that adults tell youth to do things they might not want to do, because they care. Cleaning our rooms isn’t just so that our room is clean. We are told to do so because it teaches us organization, decision making, and much more.

A workshop on Positive Peer Influence was demonstrated through an active game where some students held red cards and others held green while most were not given a card. The red represented negative behavior, the green, positive. Students then had to run around, handing out cards to as many peers as possible. However, the game began already with more students handing out red cards than students with green. This demonstrated that negative behavior spreads faster and easier than positive peer influence. The rest of the session debriefed on why students thought that was, what youth can do to change negative behaviors, avoid those behaviors, the consequences of those actions on themselves and others around them, as well as what it means to them that they were able to see how behavior spreads.

Planning and Decision Making was another hands on workshop for the future 6th grade students. Students were told they were on a flight to LA. The plane has minor engine failure and had to land in a deserted area. In order to survive and save everyone on the plane, there is enough time to open one of two storage bins. Then, students had to determine what 12 items in the selected storage bin they would take to the wilderness. Each bin held specific survival tools; one better than another for traveling through the wilderness, and one to stay in the same area. The groups worked together to look at the bigger picture of surviving and finding civilization, and used their decision making skills to make the right choice.

One of the most moving and important workshops presented was the Cultural Competence session. In this, students discussed the ways in which people were different in their school, how they felt different from others, what that meant, how it felt, and if they associated with people of differences. That helped students determine if diversity was a good or bad thing. This workshop opened the eyes of students to see that we should value differences, embrace others who are different and understand that who we are as well as who others are. No matter the differences, we should treat people how we want to be treated.

In the Resistance Skills, students determined whether their actions left them in a safety zone, risk zone or danger zone. From there, students learned how to change their behaviors to be in a safer zone, how to resist peer pressure and avoid dangerous situations. Questions ranged from missing homework assignments to drinking alcohol and all answers were confidential.

Each workshop was related directly back to two major concepts:

1) What the student themselves could do to build that asset in themselves and others

and 2) back to how the assets help ease the difficult transition year

After the 6 workshops, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Mrs. Karen Smith and Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Joe Erardi closed the day by giving their advice on middle school transition, stating to enter middle school with a “quiet confidence” and to always “do your best.”

STEPS, Camp Sloper and all of the schools were motivated and found the importance of allowing time for students to get to know each other before the first day of middle school but also for giving students the tools and skills to better adapt to a new environment to grow healthy and successful.

We can’t wait for next year!