Classroom countdown

POLK COUNTY -- Charlotte Fisher looked down one of the hallways in LaCreole Middle School in Dallas one day last week, started a stop watch and motioned to her fellow teachers to "let them in.&qu



POLK COUNTY -- Charlotte Fisher looked down one of the hallways in LaCreole Middle School in Dallas one day last week, started a stop watch and motioned to her fellow teachers to "let them in."

A flow of soon-to-be sixth-graders streamed through corridors toward their lockers as part of a drill -- they had 4 minutes to get it open, grab a pencil and make it to their assigned teacher's classroom.

Most students race-walk -- they've been told not to run. Student Jaret Stewart strolls almost leisurely to his locker, retrieves a pencil and walks into class.

As a fifth-grader at Whitworth Elementary School last year, Stewart said he won the right to have his own locker.

"I got to practice and stuff," he said, grinning as others fumble frantically with their combinations and seek help from volunteer aides.

Stewart and 200 other children in Dallas will make that leap from elementary to middle school. Stewart wasn't worried; his mom used to work here, so he already knows where everything is, he said.

For others, thank goodness for middle school orientation.

Last week, LaCreole and Talmadge Middle School in Independence held multi-day camps for incoming sixth-graders to demystify some of the intricacies and myths of junior high. Students

practiced opening lockers, learned how to use a day planner and where important offices were, and other school survival tips.

"I taught kindergarten for six years before coming here and it's kind of the same thing here, the anxiousness," Fisher, a sixth-grade teacher said. "We need the orientation ... I think there would be a lot of kids in tears on the first few days of school if we didn't have it."

Orientation for middle school students has run for many years in the neighboring Salem-Keizer School District. Both of Polk County's two non-West Salem middle schools started running their sessions four years ago.

The events aren't mandatory, but attendance is usually high. At Talmadge, 175 students showed up for the two-day "Cougar Camp."

"A new school is scary for them," said Perry LaBounty, principal of Talmadge. "You go from having six years in a self-contained, very supportive environment in an elementary school. Then it's on to a much bigger school, where you have multiple teachers and multiple classes. And really, the trauma for the parents is almost greater than for the kids."

Children went through icebreakers to introduce themselves to peers from different elementary schools and met teachers a few weeks early.

"It pays off for our teachers in that kids are more prepped, less anxious and ready to roll on that first day," said Christina Wonderly, Talmadge vice principal.

The students themselves seemed to find giving up part of their waning summer vacation worthwhile. Lakota Richardson of Dallas said she had never had a locker before and that it took her "a lot of tries" to get it open.

"I got it now," she said.

Alex Granera and Destiny Calvillo, two friends from Independence and now locker partners, said they were excited about meeting students who attended elementary schools other than theirs.

Lockers and homework -- "I heard we're going to get a lot" -- were some of Granera's biggest worries. Calvillo said it was weird now being the smallest students in school.

"In fifth grade, I was always the biggest and tallest person there," she said. "But the eighth-graders here are way bigger ... it's like I'm starting kindergarten all over again."

Back to School

Here is a schedule of when Polk County students report to school:

DALLAS SCHOOL DISTRICT

* Tuesday, Sept. 6 -- Grades K-9.

* Wednesday, Sept. 7 -- Grades 10-12.

CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

* Tuesday, Sept. 6 -- Grades K-5, 6, 9.

* Wednesday, Sept. 7 -- Grades 7-8, 10-12.

PERRYDALE SCHOOL DISTRICT

* Tuesday, Sept. 6 -- Grades 9-12

* Thursday, Sept. 8 -- Grades K-8.

FALLS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

* Tuesday, Sept. 6 -- All Grades.

LUCKIAMUTE VALLEY CHARTER SCHOOLS

* Tuesday, Sept. 6 -- All Grades.

KINGS VALLEY CHARTER SCHOOL

* Tuesday, Sept. 6 -- All Grades.



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