Summers in the twenty-first century for middle school boys are very different than those I experienced back in the early 60’s. While there was plenty of time for play, my parents had made it very clear to me that there would be some involvement in labor and service as part of my summer plans, with no electronic games or cable television to steal me away for hours at a time.
The pace of students and no doubt their sleep schedules are very different from what many of us may have experienced as adolescents. The closer we get to the opening days of school I am reminded of how this summer way of life can impact a smooth start to the new school year. For years, St. Paul’s has provided a Head Start program that understands the challenge of beginning another new academic year. This program addresses several of the areas that can pose problems for students as they get ready to dive into being a student once again.
Adjusting to an early start to the day – Although we don’t start as early as our normal school day, the 8:30 start proves to be a good way for many of the boys to ease into what will be expected of them when classes begin. Finding the time to have a good breakfast, taking care of personal hygiene, determining what clothes to wear, and finding the materials needed for the day are all good practice for the upcoming year.
Attending two “academic” classes – Being in an instructional environment has not been the case for most of our boys since that last day of classes in June. Getting back into the expected routines and procedures that create the best opportunities for learning will make those first days of school less stressful.
Reviewing basic organizational and study skills – Most adolescent boys are challenged in the area of executive functioning. The skills associated with executive function are: impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, and organization. Spending some time for three days laying some groundwork in these skill areas is a significant precursor to a successful start to the year.
Reviewing basic math concepts and processes – Research has indicated that summers can be a time of losing traction with regard to math proficiency. Hence, we require the summer IXL work so that the boys “stay in touch” with what they have learned and hopefully there is limited regression. The three days of review and reinforcement can serve as validation for the hard work of some and a gentle reminder to others that maybe more needs to be done to be ready for that first math class.
Socializing and competing – Our middle school is a brotherhood of 215 boys all striving to “be part of something bigger than themselves.” The time from 12:30 – 1:30 PM spent in low-stakes skill development and competition in soccer and non-contact football is a great way for students new to St. Paul’s to make friends and for our veterans to show our newest “Crusies” how much fun it is to be a part of the middle school community. Many friendships that have stood the test of time began in these early days on the fields before the beginning of school.