How to Succeed in Middle School: By Really Trying!

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SOMS Principal Joseph UglialoroSouth Orange Middle School (SOMS) Principal Joseph Uglialoro led a transition program Thursday for incoming 6th grade students and their parents. The program, which included a BBQ in the SOMS courtyard, was chock full of handy information for students and parents alike on how to survive the sometimes rocky transition to middle school.

Although the session was just for SOMS students the tips and information can apply to any new middle schooler.

“This is a difficult transition,” said Mr. Uglialoro, who is known by students and parents as ‘Mr. U.’ “The adolescence years are unique. Kids need support socially and emotionally.”

He said in light of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program both middle schools follow, students should strive to be literate to the world and to focus on what they can contribute to society.

Mr. U. noted that while many parents feel strongly connected to and involved in their children’s elementary schools, that seems to wane in middle school. He would like to change that, he said, and one of his main goals this year is to have parents be more “engaged, informed and connected to their children’s school experience.”

He said he and the SOMS administration were working hard to be more responsive to parents. He noted that parents with questions or concerns should start by contacting their child’s teacher(s), and/or their guidance counselors for more general concerns.

He urged parents to visit the SOMS HSA page for all relevant information, lists, news, etc.

Sixth graders are randomly assigned to one of three teams (A, B and C), which offer the same curriculum and instruction. Parents will receive a packet of information in the mail in the last week of August which will have the student’s homeroom number in it. Also, team assignments will be posted on the door of the school.

The 6th grade program features a core schedule of math, science, social studies, language arts, and Spanish, in addition to an arts elective program that includes choices such as band, orchestra, chorus, 2D and 3D Art, robotics, Model United Nations, and documentary film making.

Afterschool enrichment opportunities include National History Day, Model United Nations, MathCounts, Computer Programming and Design, and Robotics.

Mr. U. offered tips for how parents and caregivers can ensure a smooth middle school experience for their children:

  • Make it non-negotiable that your child attend the conference period at the end of every day. This is the half hour from 2:45-3:15, when classes are over but teachers remain in the classroom to be available for help with homework, test makeups or any questions or extra assistance children might have.
  • Be in their business. Ask to look at their agendas and homework every day.
  • Use Powerschool to keep on top of your child’s grades and test scores.
  • Encourage your children to join clubs and programs, to find their passion. Mr. U. noted that middle schools are the years that children tend to start to become disengaged; this is one way to stop that from happening.
  • Make sure they read 30 minutes each and every day. This is especially important now with the beginning of the Common Core curriculum, which he called “significantly more rigorous.” Reading every day is the best way to prepare for the changes. “The game has changed,” he said bluntly.

As the students filed out with 7th and 8th grade transition leaders who would take them on a tour of the school, Mr. U. took parent questions. One asked how much homework to expect; Mr. U. said 6th graders should not be doing more than one hour a day. “If your child is routinely spending more time than that, speak to his or her teacher,” he said.

Principal Joseph Uglialoro at SOMS 6th grade transition program

Principal Joseph Uglialoro at SOMS 6th grade transition program

A parent asked how his child could move up a level in math, for example, from College Prep to Honors. Mr. U. said if the child has an A average after the first marking period, they should be moved up. However, he cautioned, parents have to advocate for that to happen. “Do not hesitate to push for that,” he said.

The principal noted that, much to many a new parent’s surprise — and to his dismay — there are no parent/teacher conferences in middle school. However, parents can schedule a conference at any time by contacting their child’s team leader.

Mr. U. and Assistant Principal James Jennings spoke about safety when students are walking to school. They noted the “severe traffic problems” along N. Ridgewood Road that are caused by parents double parking and dropping children off in front of the school, rather than driving around to the back of the building.

“Parents are putting kids in dangerous situations,” said Mr. U. He advised children walking to and from school to be careful, to cross where there are crossing guards, and to make eye contact with drivers to make sure they have seen them.

Here’s a list of helpful FAQs to get students and parents on their way.

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