One of the most common questions we receive when sharing about the ARCTIC Zone is, “How will your students transition to high school after being in such a different setting for middle school?” It is a question we anticipated but not one we expected to be so misunderstood. As we enter registration time for our current 6th and 7th grade students, as well as the incoming 5th grade population, we are being faced with this question once again. As I reflect on our year and a half of program-implementation, this is one area I realize we have not communicated well, mostly because I think we are still navigating our own waters.
As we prepare for the first year of bringing our full ARCTIC Zone concept to life, merging all three grades levels, we have a much better understanding of just how well this program DOES prepare our students for the high school setting. Let me explain:
I will start with the ideas we have known from the beginning. Our students are given ample opportunity to practice the soft skills I know I did not encounter until much later in my life. They are collaborating on a daily basis and developing their communication skills. Time-management and prioritization are difficult behaviors to conquer in middle school, but our students set their own goals, pilot their own paths, are held accountable, spend copious amounts of time reflecting on their progress, and develop plans for improvement.
We put a large emphasis on developing and analyzing our students’ learner profiles, where they look at characteristics unique to them that may help or hinder their learning. This includes determining what kinds of environmental factors are helpful to their focus, how they can lean on their strengths to help develop their struggles, and how things outside of school can impact their learning.
The practice and development of these skills puts our students at an advantage as they transition to the traditional high school setting. They enter knowing who they are. They enter knowing their areas of strength and struggle. They know how to chunk their time and when they need to bring work home. They know how to work with others and how to think critically when problems arise. They are ready for the challenges that high school will bring.
As we prepare for our first year with eighth grade representation, I am realizing how much our year-to-year schedule creates a smooth transition from the ARCTIC Zone approach to the traditional high school setting, as well. As sixth grade students, they spend quite a bit of time in the Zone, getting to know themselves and each other, navigating the passion project, and building time-management skills. In seventh grade, they spend more time outside the Zone with their peers in the traditional setting, as they add a couple elective courses, while they continue to build on their academic and soft skills within the Zone. Finally, by grade eight, due to the high number of traditional elective courses offered, students spend at least half of their time out of the Zone with direct-instruction and peer-connections with those in the traditional setting. Part of their time in the ARCTIC Zone during eighth grade is spent developing their personal transition plan for high school to connect what they have learned about themselves in middle school to what they will experience in high school. What other eighth grade student spends time preparing for high school like that?
I have a better answer for when people ask the transition to high school question from now on, but we needed the time to develop the answer. And we need the time to continue to develop the ARCTIC Zone. We are not a perfect program, but we are getting better and better every day and every year, and I feel confident in how we are preparing our students for their futures.