Middle school students learning how to open lockers.

Soon to be sixth-graders recently participated in a week-long UPWARD camp at Liberty Middle School, to prepare them for the first days of school, including the often-dreaded ritual of opening a locker. (Danielle Frost/Post-Record)

Posted: August 14, 2017

The thought of opening a locker on the first day of school can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest 11-year-old, who has likely seen at least one television show or movie depicting middle school as a scary place where sixth-graders get bullied and stuffed into lockers.

But a new camp at Liberty Middle School, UPWARD, is trying to help alleviate those types of concerns for its incoming students. Along with how to access their totally not-scary lockers, they learn how to navigate other situations likely to cause some anxiety, such as finding the bathrooms, getting to class and figuring out where and when to go for lunch.

Educators have partnered with area parents to offer the opportunity to attend an orientation summer camp. The week-long event, hosted by staff, middle schoolers, and high school students, gives tweens the chance to get to know the school, and meet their teachers and classmates. Camp organizers hope the program will lead to a better start of the school year for incoming sixth-graders and give them some tools to help other struggling students.

“We know that for some kids (and more than a couple parents) coming to middle school from elementary school can be a stressful time, and we want to reduce that stress as much as possible,” explained Gary Moller, the principal at Liberty Middle.

Kendall Hood and Savannah Fennell were among the more than 40 campers.

Both girls decided to attend the camp after hearing information about it at their elementary schools in the spring.

“I thought it sounded interesting and wanted to see what middle school was all about,” Hood said.

Added Fennell: “I wanted to learn how to open my locker. We only have three minutes to do it and then get to class.”

Both girls felt the camp was beneficial in getting them familiar with the school and the dreaded lockers.

“When other students struggle, we will be able to help them,” Hood said.

Camas resident and parent Heather Fresh applied for a grant from the Camas Educational Foundation in order to help fund the camp, which is modeled after a program offered in Fresh’s former home, Saratoga, New York.

“It’s a huge transition,” Fresh said. “You don’t walk single-file to lunch or the bus. You’re not in one classroom anymore.

She continued, “Coming to this camp can help alleviate the little stresses, such as how to open lockers and get to class on time. There are literally kids who are in tears over this every year. They also have an opportunity to meet kids from other schools and get a tour of the school.”

Read more in the Camas-Washougal Post-Record.