On March 23 at middle school campuses across Abilene ISD, hundreds of fifth-graders got their first glimpse of what awaits them next year at Clack, Craig, Madison and Mann middle schools.

In February, Abilene ISD eighth-graders converged on the Abilene Convention Center for the district’s annual “Hello, High School” event where they were able to get a first-hand look at what electives they will be able to choose to participate in when they reach high school. At Craig Middle School, “5th Grade Day” provides the same opportunity for elementary students from Taylor, Thomas, Martinez, Ortiz Purcell and Bonham, as well as the McMurry Magnet campus.

Future Craig Colts were treated to short presentations by the school’s fine arts programs, including the band, choir, orchestra and theatre programs showing off what they have to offer the incoming students. The students also took a short tour of each of the campuses, including Craig, allowing them the opportunity to get a glimpse at hallways, classrooms and other important stops in the facility.

It’s all part of the district’s attempt at making next year’s incoming sixth-graders more comfortable with the start of middle school.

“My hope for this program for fifth-graders is that it gives them a sampling of what our middle schools have to offer,” said principal Deb Stewart, now finishing her second year at Craig after spending the previous year as the principal at Ortiz Elementary School. “By the time they get here for the first day of school in August, they’ll have been here for this day and for our Colt Walkabout a few days before the start of school. Middle school can be intimidating, but hopefully (today) they were able to see that they’ll have people on campus they know and that there are activities they can get involved in to get them plugged into the campus.”

Stewart said many of the questions are the same each year, including what they are to wear each day (the district has adopted standardized dress at the middle school level) and how to fill out the choice of subject sheet that will help counselors set schedules for each student. Everything done for the students was done to help relieve the anxiety that comes with moving from the comfort of the elementary campus to the hustle-and-bustle of a secondary campus.

“We aren’t going to eliminate all of the stress or anxiety that comes with starting middle school,” Stewart said. “They’ve been in a very comfortable environment at elementary schools and they don’t know what to expect when they get to our campuses. That can be intimidating.”

Stewart said in her experience it’s about a six-week process for those students to become acclimated to the middle school level.

“You can kind of see it happening over those first six weeks that, for them, the halls become less crowded,” Stewart said. “The building becomes a little smaller. The cafeteria isn’t as loud. And they can do the work their teachers are giving them. It’s important for us to minimize the anxiety and put together a plan to deal with that. Our counselors and teachers are really good about building the students’ toolbox to help them get through it and settled in.”

One thing Stewart and the other middle school principals also want to get across is that those fifth-grade students understand that the three middle school years are a starting point for their secondary education experience. They need to realize that the students they saw at Craig on “5th Grade Day” were in their position just two or three years ago.

“I think some of them might look at our bands or orchestras or whatever and not realize that the majority of those kids started in sixth grade with no background in playing an instrument or singing or whatever it might be,” she said. “What we want them to realize is that this is the launching point for them to do great things. It’s the launching pad to be in Revolution Strings or something else they might want to do in high school.”

And once they figure that out, Stewart said, those younger students become vibrant parts of the middle school campus community.

“One of the challenges is helping them figure out in that sixth-grade year that they’ve got what it takes to survive here,” she said. “My hope is that once they get the right perspective on what’s going on here that they’ll be successful.”