PORT CHESTER, N.Y. – During Port Chester Middle School's sixth-grade orientation Wednesday, students tried their hands at opening lockers and navigating the halls while learning the names and faces of classmates from four elementary schools.
Sixth-grader Julia Short said she was a little nervous at first. But after meeting her homeroom classmates through a series of get-to-know-you games, she felt more comfortable. “It’s kind of overwhelming, but they said I’d get the hang of it,” Julia said.
The transition began in February when students from all four elementary schools in Port Chester visited the middle school for a tour, Principal Patrick Swift said. “The ultimate goal is by Sept. 6, there will be no inhibitions and no fear,” said Swift. “We push this to be a happy place.”
Students are grouped into six teams for the year. This year, Swift called those teams “academies” and named them for Port Chester landmarks such as the Tamarack Tower and Lyon Park. The idea is to learn more about local history and reinforce a sense of community.
“Before the week is out, I get the opportunity to meet with every single academy so they can get to know our philosophy,” said Swift. "I tell the kids it’s so simple: If you’re a good person and you’re responsible and you’re respectful, then everything else falls into place.”
One of Swift’s goals is to make sure that students know their opportunities. Port Chester Middle School is one of the few middle schools that holds a college fair for eighth grade students.
“Every kid in this building has the opportunity to go to some form of secondary education out there. They have to believe that,” says Swift. “Our kids from downtown don’t know what college is. If we can share that before they get to high school, then that’s half of it. They have to have a vision.”
This year, the middle school, like all New York State public schools, is rolling out a new curriculum to meet the standards of the new Common Core. The state is focusing on reorganization and making educators more accountable, Swift said.
“We consider every teacher in this building an English language arts teacher, and that’s what the Common Core says,” he added. “We do that already at the middle school in Port Chester so I think we’re ahead of the curve a little bit; now it’s just lining it all up.”
Back To School Night will be Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m. Port Chester Middle School is located at 113 Bowman Ave.