Eighth grade can be a difficult transition year for many students, both academically and socially. Adapting to the freedom and responsibilities of high school presents challenges to some adolescents and all too often grades plummet, attendance suffers, and misbehavior incidents increase. An unfortunate phenomenon across the country, it happens right here in Rappahannock County.
To serve as a bridge between middle and high school while addressing some of the transition challenges associated with eighth grade, Rappahannock County High School has created a new program for the 2016-17 academic year; the 8th Grade Academy. Spearheaded and managed by the RCHS Guidance Counselor, Dani Pond, and the Rappahannock County 4-H Coordinator, Jenny Kapsa, the 8th Grade Academy, while still in its first year pilot phase, has already proven a valuable tool in easing the transition to high school.
As part of the Academy, Ms. Pond and Ms. Kapsa have established a peer mentoring program for 8th graders, with upperclassmen receiving mentoring training last September at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center as well as additional follow-up training at RCHS. Training provided mentors with skills to provide guidance, friendship, and support to their 8th grade mentees.
Mentoring take place during the high school’s “flex” time, a block of time created within the school day to? (that does not take away from academic time?). The 8th graders met their peer mentors in September at the first of several ice cream socials. Since then student mentors have been available weekly for guidance and assistance as well as unofficially throughout the school day. This mentoring program has served to help integrate the 8th graders into the high school community, while forging new friendships. Eighth graders now have trusted advisors who can help with homework and study strategies, advise on extracurricular opportunities, and sometimes just provide a safe place to vent frustrations .
While no hard data has been researched, school administrators and teachers report that discipline referrals seem to be far fewer than in years past with incidences of fighting nonexistent . . . a peek at lunch tables reveals a pronounced mixing of students of different grade levels, something noticeably absent in the past
The 8th Grade Academy also provides career and college readiness through Life Skills workshops and the Reality Store – a career and life simulation activity that, thrusts 8th graders into the real world of salaries and living expenses, and teaches the cost of life choices ranging from the cost of raising a family to the opportunities afforded by working a second job. The expectation is that the 8th Grade Academy will significantly contribute to the school’s vision of empowering every student to reach their full potential.
The creation and management of the 8th Grade Academy has been made possible by a $16,000 Make it Happen! grant from the PATH Foundation. Make it Happen! grants are designed to engage and inspire the community to develop new and innovative programs to benefit the community: the RCHS 8th Grade Academy has done just that.
James E. Swindler, a lifelong resident of Rappahannock County, is Schools Facilities Director for Rappahannock County Public Schools and assistant principal of Rappahannock County High School.