June 14, 2006 - While the transition from elementary school to middle school can be difficult, Marana Unified School District officials said they hope summer orientation programs teach in-coming seventh graders the adjustments they'll need to make in order to succeed in their new school.

Designed to better orient students to middle school, Steps to Organization Achievement and Responsibility is a five-day program that runs from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Marana Middle School. It is designed to bring a strong focus in goal setting, organizational skills, study skills and communication skills to students for the coming school year, said Gary Waller, community schools coordinator for the Marana Unified School District.

"It's basically an overview of what life is like as a seventh grader," Waller said. "We show them the layout of the campus, how to open a locker and use their student agendas, and show students what classes are available to them."

Session one was last week, June 5 to 9, and session two runs from July 31 to Aug. 4, costing $40 per student with scholarships available to those in need. Each session is limited to 100 students and buses are available from the student's elementary school to Marana Middle School, said David Liss, principal of Marana Middle School, 11279 W. Grier Road.

In its fifth year, Waller said the idea for the SOAR program was initiated because teachers saw students struggling with the transition from a self-contained classroom setting throughout elementary school to now moving classes six or seven different times a day in middle school. "It's a tremendous step," said Waller of the change from sixth grade to seventh grade. He estimated students go from a school comprised of 800 to 900 students where they mostly stayed in one classroom to a school populated with more than 1,200 students where they have to travel from class to class. Liss agreed.

"Each kid operates at a different comfort level and we as administrators need to be there to help them out in any means possible throughout their journey," he said.

But while students may be anxious meeting new people and coming into new circumstances, many of them already know each other through sports and various other community activities, Waller said.

"Our community isn't all that large," he said.

Waller said Tortolita Middle School, 4101 W. Hardy Road, and Marana Middle School each have about 1,150 students.

While the administration's hope is for students to succeed in the classroom, Waller said he couldn't find a correlation between students taking part in SOAR and making better grades than those students who didn't take part in the summer program.

"There is no data to support that one way or the other," Waller said. But Liss said 87 percent of students who take part in SOAR are successful later on in middle school. While he couldn't provide any other numbers to support the claim, Liss said SOAR's success can be measured by student grades. "Teachers see that these students are more eager to learn at the middle school level," Liss said.

Jane D'Amore, principal of Tortolita Middle School, said students who participate in Jump Start, a program similar to SOAR, at Tortolita are more comfortable and more productive students on campus.

"They know where my office is and they recognize [other administrators'] faces," she said. "These are the students that are successful in their classes and become campus leaders."

D'Amore sympathizes, however, with students struggling with the transition from a school they spent six years at to a middle school that often has upward of five elementary schools feeding into it. "Any transition in life is difficult at first, especially for a teenager who wants to make new friends and enter into different peer groups," D'Amore said.

Waller said the teacher and aide staff who participate in SOAR take pleasure in hosting it year after year to better acclimate students to the middle school experience.

"The teachers really enjoy what happens during the program because they get to know these students, faces and names," Waller said. "Now they'll have a better knowledge of these students' needs come August. We're proud of the program and the success it brings."

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