“It’s kind of scary,” said one 8th Grade girl as we headed over to the Garth Campus.
In February, 2015, Middle School Head Clay Elliott, then new to Randolph and the 7th & 8th Grade Dean, accompanied the 8th grade on their "Move Up Day" visit to the Garth Campus. We asked him to share his observations.
As 8th grade teachers, we so often hear how excited our students are for Upper School that we can easily forget that their emotions are far more rich and ambivalent. Excitement is often accompanied by trepidation, particularly as students question whether they are ready for such a momentous moment.
In the hopes of addressing those feelings by giving them context, the 8th Grade took the opportunity to test the waters of the Upper School on Homecoming Day. We boarded buses and headed over early that morning. After a brief introduction from Michael Treadwell, 9th & 10th Grade Dean, the students split into groups and began a tour of the classes.
The tour was not only a chance to see the facility, but an opportunity to get to know teachers and to hear about the challenges and opportunities that Randolph's Upper School would provide. At each stop, one of the 9th grade teachers introduced their subject and the course. Some teachers went beyond that to give a small taste of the kind of lessons and skills that will be presented in coming years.
After introducing them to the Harkness table and the Upper School English curriculum, Nate Gee asked the students to compose a thesis about him based on what they could observe in the room. He worked with them to observe the room around them and compose the thesis using the evidence. The depth of thought that he was able to elicit in 15 short minutes was a testament to the continuity of Randolph's English Department, as Mr. Gee was building off of work done regularly in 8th Grade English.
I was particularly impressed with one student’s offering: “Mr. Gee appreciates new twists on old ideas.”
Similarly, in Biology, the students used a microscope to observe their own hair, and they practiced with tessellations in math. Eighth graders were introduced to the wide variety of options available to them in arts and athletics, as well as touring the impressive facilities.
Unanimously, among the 8th graders I chatted with, the most important moment of the day was the conversation that they had with the current 9th graders during the snack break.
The older students shared their observations on transitioning from the Drake campus. The advice ranged from the reassuring – “The transition is only as hard as you make it;” to the practical – “Don’t procrastinate;” to the realistic – “Biology is pretty tough.”
The 8th graders were reminded that the work expected of them would be a big step up, but that the work they were doing in Middle School would prepare them well for the adjustment.
One of the most powerful moments of the day was hearing a 9th grader describe the Upper School Honor Code signing ceremony. The student’s commitment to the Code was evident in his description of its precepts, and the 8th graders were clearly impressed.
As the day came to a close with the all school Pep Rally, I had a chance to sit with several students and ask them how they were feeling afterwards. While trepidation remained, enthusiasm had greatly increased, and I often heard notes of confident expectation: