Walk in a 6th-grader's Shoes

by Michael Porter
Our 5th grade students recently got the opportunity to walk in a 6th grader's shoes during Step-In Day. They were listened and participated as they learned about the advantages and privileges that a 6th grader at JCDS enjoys.
Some of the 5th graders started their day hanging out at the Senior Spot – by themselves – for a little morning camaraderie. By 6th grade, our students have achieved a level of trust such that adults don't need to be with them every minute of the day.

Others participated in the Leadership Corps by helping the littlest Sharks to get out of their cars and walking with them to their homerooms.
Our 5th graders got to hear about the life of 6th graders directly from the source. A panel of four sixth-grade Student Council members shared stories (some of them quite humorous), answered questions, and went over the highlights of the 6th-grade experience at JCDS.

In 6th grade, students have the opportunity to choose elective classes. While the offerings vary year-to-year, there is always something interesting in the fields of arts, tech, and life skills. Students select a new elective every trimester.
Our 5th graders had the chance to preview and participate in two of these electives!
For one of the electives, they spent time practicing survival skills with Mr. Nathan Renstrom. The students were challenged to complete two tasks: raise a flag as high as possible without a flag pole, and construct a shelter to protect from the elements. Working in two teams, they used their ingenuity and creativity to get their jobs done.
This elective is valuable because it gives the students some hands-on, outdoor experiences that are generally not available during the normal school day. This elective is led by Mr. Renstrom and Mr. Brendan Haney – both Eagle Scouts and thus experts on this subject.
Meanwhile Ms. Lindsay Curry gave the students a taste of performing arts through her acting and improv elective.
As a warmup, the students started out by doing the "mirror" exercise, where students work in pairs and one of them tries to duplicate the motions of their partner, as if looking into a mirror.
"All of the exercises and games we played yesterday focused on connecting with each other," said Ms. Curry. "For example, the game Tableau is played by participants freezing into poses to create a scene, being added one by one to further the story each time."
Next, they played the Monster game, where performers are asked to describe their version of a monster...how it looks, sounds, and moves. Then a second performer enters the space as that monster. The kids loved it! 
"Improv is all about engaging creativity, collaboration, and community. In all of our improv classes we first create an environment built on trust and safety, so each performer feels successful when co-creating. It makes us better listeners, better public speakers, more empathic and aware of our emotions, and it's just fun! Improv inherently supports each student's abilities and they always thrive while participating," Ms. Curry explained.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was getting the scoop about where the 6th graders go on field trips. Two of the three major field trips are overnights!
Ms. Dona Kenny and Ms. Kate Pleasants shared photos and stories about last year's trips:
The Hoggetown Medieval Faire in Gainesville gives students a sampling of the life, leisure, food, and culture of the Medieval period. This trip fits well into Ms. Kenny's Medieval curriculum. This is a "free-roam" trip, as there are many attractions for the students and there is no set agenda. This is an example of how our 6th graders can be trusted to show personal responsibility. Of course, adults are always nearby.
The Washington, D.C. trip is a 3-night trip that allows students to get a close-up view of the center of our government and observe some major national treasures. While this trip is basically escorted, for the most part, the students have some say about which Smithsonian museums to visit. (It would take weeks to truly appreciate them all.) Earlier this year, four JCDS students were selected to participate in the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – an honor that they and their friends will remember for life.

The Marine Lab trip in the Spring gives our students a chance to visit the Florida Keys for 3 days - participating in hands-on work on oceanography and sea life. This trip is scheduled during the last weeks before graduation, thus giving the last and best bonding experience with the friends they have shared life with for most of their lives, in many cases.
Lastly, the 5th graders were able to select a place to have lunch. They could eat in the dining room, the Senior Spot, the cabana, or the amphitheater. Again, unattended by adults. They were also permitted to walk between classes unaccompanied.
The Sixth Grade Experience at JCDS is unlike any other local school. Through our character education program, the students have learned and exhibited personal responsibility which gives the teachers and administrators confidence that they can conduct themselves well independently, and thus should be rewarded with many perquisites for their accomplishments.