5th-graders get a dose of reality about middle school | TahoeDailyTribune.com

5th-graders get a dose of reality about middle school

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Tyler Slater, a 4-foot-3-inch fifth-grader at Tahoe Valley Elementary School, feels fortunate he can run fast. The ability will aid him from escaping mighty eighth-graders next year at South Tahoe Middle School, he believes.

Next year’s crop of sixth-graders sat in bleachers Thursday as nervous fifth-graders while they listened to counselors and older students dispel myths — such as swirlies, a head dunked in a flushed toilet, being non-existent — and how life is at the 1,200 pupil school during orientation.

“I’m afraid (the older students will) put me in toilets and stuff because I’m small and my brother will probably tell the seventh-graders to be mean to me,” said a smiling Tyler, who believed he would be roughed up five times next year.

Tyler was one of hundreds of students who sat wide-eyed while listening to energetic counselors and administrators talk about the uniqueness of middle school.

Midway through orientation, half the fifth-graders, who came from the five Lake Tahoe Unified School District elementary schools, went on tours while the other half immersed themselves in a question-and-answer session.

One group, led by sixth-grader and task-orientated Kevin Fairchild, bounced from one campus site to the next. Eighth-grader Nathan Machida made sure no one wandered off.

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“That’s cool, every single water fountain works,” marveled fifth-grader Ben Sullivan.

“Are they going to show us where the detention room is?” asked Jorge Romero, adding he wasn’t planning on spending any time in the room.

A stop outside the multipurpose room drew a small throng of curious sixth-graders.

“Sixth grade is hard,” said Pascual Torres. “They give you a lot of homework. It’s not easy.”

Luis Cervantes had different advice.

“Don’t leave your backpack in the hall or they get jacked,” he said.

Back in the gym, Fairchild’s group went through name games. Quiet, shy voices imploded the circle.

Next arrived a sheet of pink paper. Fifth-graders and one reporter asked questions about middle school, yes and no votes were counted and the truth was provided.

It was found swirlies were a myth and bugs in middle school food was an out right untruth. Food fights happened occasionally in small scales.

Perhaps the most prevailing truth, to the relief of timid fifth-graders, was best explained by sixth-grader Chris Heng.

“When I came here I always thought I’d be beat up by the eighth-graders,” Chris said, ” but I didn’t because if you leave them alone, they leave you alone.”

But some, like Molly Matthews, probably couldn’t escape harassment next school year.

“Besides my sister being in eighth grade and pushing me (around), it’s going to be OK,” she said.

The transformation from fifth-graders into the middle school world, coupled with becoming a full-blown teenager, is a critical time in a student’s development, said STMS counselor Elliott Klemer.

“They begin to identify themselves,” Klemer said. “They begin to identify their strengths and weaknesses.”

During middle school, students experience physical, mental, emotional and sexual changes, Klemer said. Students begin to distance themselves from parents and test the strength of friendships.

After the orientation, Slater, the 4-foot-3-inches fifth-grader who believed he’d be beaten up five times, lowered his altercation estimate to zero.

“I know more about the school and about the higher grades than us,” he said. “Today made me feel better.”

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com