Getting ready for middle school Print
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

IHM lizard
Katherine Sporie, middle school science and math teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Monona, talks to students and parents about her classes (above) during a recent “Day in the Life of a Middle School” event at the school. On her shoulder is Aloysius the lizard. (Contributed photos/Kate Hagen)

MONONA -- A walk down the hallway at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) School in Monona doesn't take too long -- less than a minute to get from one end to the other.

Elementary school classes, up to grade four, are on one side, with the middle school classes, up to grade eight, on the other side.

While the distance is short, the journey from one side of the hallway to the other side can be a challenge for students as they become older and enter the middle school grades.

The teachers and staff at IHM try to make that journey as light as possible.

Entering middle school

IHM seventh grader Gwen Bon Durant handled the transition from elementary to middle school like most students her age.

"It was pretty easy for me since I'd always been a good student," said Bon Durant. "The organization was the hardest part, but it wasn't too hard."

Bon Durant added that some of the biggest challenges middle schoolers face are having to switch classrooms every period, making sure they go to the right place, and making sure students have the right books and materials for each of those classes.

"People said it was hard to walk and remember to move, but it wasn't that hard because everything is so close. It wasn't really hard for me, but there were challenges," she added.

The fifth grade classroom is near the middle school classrooms, so "they kind of see [middle school] vicariously through the other kids," said middle school language arts and reading teacher Sharon Derks.

Fifth graders also get a chance to shadow their sixth grade peers at the end of the school year, to see what school is like for a middle schooler.

"We all work as a team together and we know that that transition from the elementary to the middle school is sometimes difficult for some kids," said Derks.

Becoming a middle school student

Early in the year for new sixth graders, Derks emphasizes organization and study skills.

For the new middle schoolers this year, she explained the importance of how to take a test, how to take notes, and how to listen better in class -- or "transition into being a little more independent," said Derks.

She also advised parents to let their children "make some of their own mistakes . . . it's a learning time for them" and they will improve as the year goes on.

Derks said by Thanksgiving, sixth graders usually have a feel for the study skills and she is able to move onto more in-depth lessons.

For sixth grader Declan Brown, part of being a middle schooler involves having to "make sure you're taking enough time to get your work done and make sure you complete it."

He also likes having a study hall every day, so "you don't have as much homework."

"Grades become more important," said Bon Durant. "If you miss a homework assignment, it's harder to catch up if you keep on missing, because you get a new one every day."

Bon Durant and Brown said they both miss having two recesses per day, but both enjoy the more responsibility and privileges that come with being a middle schooler.

"You can walk down the hallway without a teacher always being by your side," said Bon Durant.

Help is available

For new middle schoolers, Bon Durant emphasized, "If you have any questions, ask the teachers, because they're always helpful."

Derks also said the role of parents is important.

"We're all on the same team," she said. "We're willing to help . . . They're willing to help us . . . It's that combined effort . . . We're all in this together."

"One of the beauties," Derks said of teaching the kids all three years in middle school is "you really get to know the kids, you get to know their families, which is awesome, but you also see their growth . . . You can fine tune what you're doing with the kids" and prepare them for high school.

IHM recently held a "Day in the Life of a Middle Schooler" program.

On this evening, parents and students got a chance to go room-to-room in the school and meet middle school teachers, see what middle school classes and classrooms are like, and ask questions, getting ready for the new challenges in the upcoming school years.

Former students also talked about how their time at IHM prepared them for success in high school. Their parents spoke as well.

For more on Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Monona, go to


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