Draper Park’s “welcome to the jungle” orientation day for sixth-graders was fitting considering middle school can feel a bit wild and unpredictable.
But after a day of fun and games, a performance by reigning Battle of the Bands winners, the Jazz Khakis, high-five’s from Real Salt Lake’s Leo the Lion, and banana popsicles, Draper Park’s newcomers were all smiles and ready for the adventure ahead.
For 10 years, Canyons District's middle schools have opened their doors a day early to give incoming 11- and 12-year-olds a chance to find their classes, meet their teachers, and attempt to open their lockers before the hectic hustle and bustle of the first day. The event eases back-to-school jitters by walking students through a day-in-the-life of middle school—and helps set the right climate for learning.
“In order for students to learn, they need to feel welcome and safe. A school’s climate is that palpable sense of safety and belonging that students feel when they walk into the building and interact with teachers and staff,” says Mike Sirois, CSD’s School Performance Director for Middle Schools. “It’s a vital ingredient when it comes to supporting students socially and academically.”
At Draper Park, faculty greeted students in safari outfits, danced to jazz tunes in the auditorium, and played ice-breaker games like, “Save Sam,” in which students are challenged to work together to stretch a life vest (gummy life saver) over Sam (a gummy worm) using two paperclips, instead of their hands.
“The game is an object lesson in teamwork, perseverance and problem-solving,” said math teacher Cynthia Lloyd. “We want them to switch their thinking. We want them to think of math class, not as a competition, but a learning community where problems aren’t problems, they’re challenges.”
Orientation is designed to progress just like a real school day, albeit a shortened one. Students arrive with the morning bell, attend shortened classes and learn about school rules and expectations.
Of course, they’ll continue to get the star treatment on the actual first day of school when schools literally roll out the red carpet to welcome everyone back. This year, players from the Real Monarchs will join the paparazzi of parents, teachers and principals to cheer our up-and-coming college- and career-ready stars.