Even after school tours and orientation programs, many incoming students still worry about the move from elementary to middle school. A student-made film acknowledges those fears and reassures new students that middle school is not so scary. Included: Topics that concern incoming sixth graders.
Opening lockers. Changing classes. Getting lost. Big kids. More homework. Really big kids.
None of those things might be too frightening on its own, but put them all together, add some imagination, and they can form pretty scary scenarios in the minds of soon-to-be middle-schoolers.
Called A Day in the Life, the film takes a light, but not condescending, look at fifth graders' anxieties, and compares them with the realities of middle school life. Rising sixth graders and their parents watch the film; then they can ask students and staff members questions. Some students and Chris Gegen, the school's technical support person, who brought years of film and television experience to the production, wrote the script.
The seven-minute comedy, which took a year to make and premiered in spring 2003, has attracted attention from schools all over the U.S. and is the recipient of a CINE Golden Eagle Award. The award "recognizes high quality professional production in a variety of content categories, as well as in student and amateur works," according to CINE.
Hull staff members said they are happy that A Day has done so much to allay the fears of new middle school students -- and their parents. "For a great many parents, they are doing middle school for the first time," said Sylvia Rowe, the school's head counselor who coordinated the project. "Now they understand that middle school is not a big, bad place that will eat up their child."
Hull already had in place an orientation program for students who would enter the school from the district's three elementary schools. That program included a visit to the school by the fifth graders. But the counseling staff thought a video could be informative and entertaining. For script material, eighth grade students who were peer leaders met and reminisced about the fears they had before entering middle school. "There were a lot of common themes," Gegen told Education World.
The film opens with a sixth grader riding the bus to school, reflecting on his worst fears.
Two eighth graders who appeared in the film as sixth graders said facing bullies and getting lost were among their top concerns about middle school. "I just thought everyone would be a lot bigger, and the eighth graders would be bullying you," said Evan, one of the student actors. "I also worried about getting lost."
"I heard the teachers were meaner and the eighth graders were mean," said Vincent, an eighth grader who did the voice-overs for the film. "But that wasn't the case when I got here."
Evan played a sixth grader in the film who imagines the worst will happen when he bumps into two eighth graders in the hall and drops his lunch. Instead of taunting him, the students in the film help him to his feet and hand him his lunch.
"Because the students in the film look like them, it has more impact," Rowe said.
Joan Wilson, a sixth grade teacher whose class was filmed for the movie, said that as a former fifth grade teacher she realized some students' anxieties about the middle-school transition ran deep. "I knew the kinds of questions the kids would ask and, even with a visit to the middle school, I knew they really needed more of a bird's-eye view [of middle school]," Wilson told Education World.
The number one fear of soon-to-be and new sixth graders, she said, is that industrial-sized eighth graders will pick on them. Wilson remembers one new sixth grader bolting out of a bathroom yelling, "There's a monster in the bathroom!" after seeing a big-for-his-age eighth grader. "I said, 'Just because some of them are bigger, doesn't mean they are going to hurt you.'"
Other topics covered in the film included changing classes and a look at the cafeteria, to let the students know about the choices they would have.
Making the video also provided students with a chance to work with a pro, Gegen, who worked on the production of numerous films, including JoJo Dancer, The Color Purple, and Punchline, and television shows such as Moonlighting and The A-Team. Gegen moved to Georgia several years ago to work on a television series, and gravitated to education.
"It was fun, getting experience on how to make movies," said Vincent.
School staff members and the community helped with their commitment to the project, Gegen said. "Anytime you work on a film, it is a total team concept," he told Education World. "Everyone has been very supportive, and we've gotten great feedback."
Next on the production agenda is a video on harassment, geared toward helping
students identify what it is and options for dealing with it. "We are
big proponents of weaving comedy in with some important information,"