Sixth graders get their own wing at SMS

By: 
Monika Spaulding, Digital Editor

Transitioning from elementary school to middle school can be a daunting experience for any tween. Salem Middle School is hoping to make it more of an enjoyable experience and less of an intimidating one.

Over the summer, they moved about a dozen classrooms to make the north east side of the building a sixth grade wing. In fact, the far north stairwell is for sixth graders only.

“We have very intelligent teachers who saw a need for this change,” said SMS Principal Jennifer Lawyer. “They saw issues students were having with transitioning from the elementary school, especially tardiness.”

She said while it has always been a concern, staff decided to be more proactive and make the changes for the 2018-2019 school year.

Lawyer sat down and looked at the feasibility of moving classrooms around and made it work, with just a few of the classrooms upstairs and the specials, like gym and art, being the only classes that sixth graders have to walk across the building for.

“I think the move really helped us have a smoother start to the year,” she said. “Teachers said they have seen fewer tardies and it’s easier for the sixth graders to find their classes. They are more comfortable in their own skin.”

Sixth grader Lilli Gilstrap said she was relieved when she learned she didn’t have to find her classes all over the building and would just primarily be in one area.

“The thought of middle school was scary and I was worried about walking across the school,” she said. “But, this is a lot easier than I thought it would be. It helps give me a fresh start to the school year and I knew it would help me like middle school so much better and so far, I do!”

Lawyer said she believes the change gives the students a little more confidence by not mixing them in with the upperclassmen right off the bat.

“It diminishes their interaction in the hallway,” added Lawyer.

She said teachers came in over the summer and purged their classrooms. Staff, janitors and members of the football team came in and helped move furniture up and downstairs and from room to room to get things ready for the start of the school year. Lawyer said everyone’s help was greatly appreciated.

The staff has made it a priority to have more culture and climate awareness. The idea is for students to know there is something to look forward to when they come in the building. 

“We want them to feel safe, that they are getting something beneficial from their education and that they enjoy themselves.”

Lawyer said Salem Middle School prides itself in being very focused on the “whole child” experience. With the change in the schedule of not having any team meetings, she said staff was concerned about the communication between teachers. Having the sixth graders in a close setting allows the staff to observe and communicate and be able to help each student thrive in their environment.

“We have had a lot of changes for this school year and I am very proud of how everyone has handled it,” she said. “I think it invigorated the teachers to be able to start fresh.”

Cash Rainbolt, also in sixth grade, said changing classes is much easier than he anticipated. 

“All my classes, except science and study hall, are in one hallway,” he said. “I have to go to gym, but I have lunch right before that, so it’s not a problem.”

Julia Bowling said she, too, feels having her classes in one area makes it easier. 

“I’m more worried about getting shoved in my locker because I’m so short!” she laughed.

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