No matter where you go to school, the transition to Middle School is a big deal.

The grownups at home worry about an increased workload, the confusion of changing classes, the logistics of managing a locker, and the emotional highs and lows that overtake our suddenly-hormonal tweens.

For their part, the students worry about what will happen if they forget things; whether or not people will like them whether they have the right shoes, haircut, or “fit” (even with uniforms); and how they will establish friend groups. The brave new world of middle school seems like a cold and scary place.

At Morgan Park Academy, we have mindfully set up a schedule and program for our Middle School students that helps to ease that transition and some of the figurative and literal growing pains of the pre-teen and teen years.

In Middle School, every day starts with morning advisory, where advisors check in with each student and help remind them about upcoming events. Our advisors take their roles very seriously, and alert us about moods and conflicts and find kids the assistance they need. We make every effort to create advisor-student pairings that most benefit each student, and we are committed to making advisory group meetings a “safe space” where kids can freely ask questions and clear up confusion. On our opening day, advisors helped students decipher their schedules. In the days since, I have heard advisors asking “OK, what class is first today? Do you have the books you need?”

Middle School students suddenly have a lot of stuff — which means the potential to lose all of it. We regularly remind both students and their grownups at home to label all items with names, so we can ensure they get returned to their rightful owners. Our front office is often filled with the sweet sounds of Ms. Sandy helping a student dig through what we affectionately call Mount Lost and Found, followed by the gleeful shrieks of success. The constant changing of classes creates opportunities to leave items behind, and we do our best to make sure students and their stuff are reunited.

Every staff member takes on a bit more of a comforter/listener role in these first few weeks of school. We find lunches, help with email accounts and myMPA, resolve minor friendship issues, and dry tears when books or uniform pieces are forgotten or when students mistakenly think it’s a pajama day when everyone else is in uniform. We remind students of the importance of punctuality, both to school and to class, and remind, and remind again. We assure students that it really will all be OK.

As a Middle School faculty, we recognize the importance of movement, and are committed to making sure our students have ample opportunities to move. Not only do students navigate a 20-acre campus, moving between buildings, but they also have daily P.E. or sports, and daily recess. For 20 minutes each day after lunch, we celebrate the freedom of recess — outside whenever our ever-changing Chicago climate permits.

The transition to Middle School can, in fact, be scary. There are a lot of changes from our students’ previous, more insular experience. Students take on more responsibility, have a more demanding workload, and suddenly have to manage their own time.

At Morgan Park Academy, we are committed to softening the scary parts and letting our students know that the adults are here to help them. By the end of our first academic quarter, they will feel as though they have been here forever, this routine will be second nature, and we will all wonder what we worried about.

Until then — and beyond — all of us are here to help.

By Heather Kurut

Mrs. Kurut is the principal for grades 4-8.