What do you remember from your middle school or junior
high days? Your test scores? Your grades? Probably not. You
are more likely to remember special occasions and events
that made a particularly positive impression.
We help our incoming middle grades students start
their days at our school on a positive note—one that
helps develop a sense of community and sets the stage for
experiences that they may remember for years to come.
Every spring, like many other middle grades schools
across the country, we bring the fifth graders to our school
to tour the building, participate in a middle school pep rally,
watch a 45-minute video created by our students, and ask
current students about the school and its activities. This is
followed by a parent orientation night.
These pre-school orientations help ease the transition
from elementary to middle school, but during the week
before Thanksgiving break, our now-sixth graders begin to
build positive memories and solid relationships on a three-
day, two-night field trip to the 4-H camp 45 minutes down
the road. Years later, many of our students recall this event
as one of their favorite middle school memories.
Getting to Know You
Students come to us from three K–5 feeder schools, as well
as private schools, home schools, and Montessori schools
in the county. This diversity of population requires that we
help students get acquainted with each other and help
them form a sense of community. The 4-H field trip provides
one of those opportunities.
Rock Eagle is the nation’s largest 4-H center. Owned by the
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, a branch
of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, the
camp is located in a rural area and provides an outdoor setting
perfect for garnering the unwavering attention of students.
Students are not distracted by cell phones, video games,
iPods, or television. Instead, they are immersed in an
environment that requires face-to-face interaction with
adults and other students.
All sixth graders are encouraged to participate in the trip;
donations from civic groups, churches, and parents make
scholarships available for students with financial hardships.
The community support for this event has increased over
the past several years in spite of the dismal economic
situation, primarily due to the positive impact of the trip
and the support of the community.
Teachers, administrators, and parents who have attended
training sessions act as chaperones. Our parents who
serve as chaperones often establish positive, long-term
mentor relationships with the students. Some of our parent
chaperones attend every year they have a sixth grader;
some have offered to go during years when they do not
have students in sixth grade.
The students are divided into groups of 10–18 students,
each group chaperoned by one adult. This size allows
students and adults to get to know each other and form unique bonds and friendships. Team building is critical to
developing camaraderie among students. Activities such
as a low ropes course and Native American Indian games
promote teamwork and cooperation. Meals are served in
the dining hall, where students have an opportunity to
socialize with other students from the school.
Responsibility and Respect
Students spend quality time together learning about
the great outdoors and developing a respect for the
environment and its inhabitants. They learn about lake
ecology, herpetology, pioneer tools, a historic rock effigy,
and canoeing. These academic activities are correlated with
the Georgia Performance Standards.
Students keep a journal and respond to guided questions
about each activity, reinforcing valuable reading, writing,
and listening skills. This journal is evaluated on a rubric
provided by the science teachers and considered as a test
grade in the calculation of the quarter’s science grades.
The educational staff members at Rock Eagle serve
as instructors for these classes, allowing our sixth grade
teachers to observe the interactions among the students,
parents, and instructors. At the same time, the students see
the teachers in a different light—as regular people who like
to get outdoors, learn about our environment, and have fun.
Students learn to solve problems, work as a team, and respect
individual differences. Students who traditionally are not leaders
in the classroom often shine during the ropes course class and
other activities. The most outspoken students and their soft-
spoken classmates work together to accomplish tasks.
As educators, we strive to prepare our students for the
future. Curriculum and content are important; however, our
goal must be the total development of each learner.
During middle school, students should be exposed to
a rigorous curriculum that is relevant to their real world,
but they also must learn to develop relationships and
respect for each other. This field trip provides the rigor and
the relevance through the curriculum and teaches about
establishing and maintaining relationships. It also bridges
the transition from elementary to middle school in an
effective, enjoyable way.
The benefits of this trip to middle grades students are
long-lasting and credible. It is an adventure that will be
Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, October 2011
Elyse Daniel and Tom Grudowski are teachers at Oconee County Middle School in Watkinsville, Georgia. Philip Brown is the principal at Oconee County Middle School. E-mail: email@example.com