Unique to Denver Academy is our independent sixth-grade division. To many folks, sixth grade is middle school or that final, much-too-old year of elementary school. But at DA, sixth grade is its own safe, small, super-fun division. And, although I may teach in the elementary division, I got both my start as a student and my return as a teaching assistant in DA’s sixth-grade division. So, of course, I hold it near and dear to my heart.
In past years, there has been a very natural upstream flow of the fifth graders into the sixth-grade division. It was as easy as crossing the commons area because both grades shared the same building. As both the elementary and sixth-grade divisions grew, the sixth grade needed to move into its own building, adding an air of mystery to the transition. In order to reacquaint our fifth and sixth graders after the physical separation — and then a year of cohorting in the 2020-21 school year — we built in transitional activities for 2021-22.
First, we invited legendary former DA teacher, Mr. Fred Miller, to share his enormous WWII patch collection
along with his general passion for educating about that time period. When we realized just how many fifth and sixth-grade students we had enrolled, we struggled to find a location to host our event. Luckily, our PE teachers accommodated our needs and let us use their back patio for the afternoon.
Next, the sixth-grade teachers hosted a meet-and-greet for the fifth-grade students and parents. One day after school, fifth-grade parents headed over to the sixth-grade building. There, Dean of 6th Grade Barrie Bodden introduced his team and some of the foundational events and values of the sixth grade. The event was highly attended and as I quietly stepped out the door mid-way through, I began to feel that our students and their parents were ready to take on this transition.
Later in the school year, we had a visit from one of my favorite alumni, adventurer extraordinaire, and close friend Sam Orkin (Class of 2010). Since I began working at DA, Sam has visited us regularly to present his fantastic rafting and kayaking adventures around the world! Once again, we gathered fifth and sixth graders in DA’s James E. Loan Athletic Center lobby and Sam shared pictures and artifacts from his 85-day trip through the Arctic with his brother Ben. While Sam’s stories always enthrall all who listen, our students especially connect to an adult who sat where they sat, struggled with the same struggles they do, and now gets to do exactly what he wants and chase his dreams.
Finally, during one of the last weeks of school, the fifth graders had a transition week. We took time during character education to start talking about students’ hopes and concerns around their move to sixth grade. We debunked many rumors about sixth grade, but did confirm — to the disappointment of the students — that there will be more homework! The students were asked to reflect on what they wanted from their future. As they thought of a job they were working toward, they wrote their name and future goal on a Hollywood-walk-of-fame-esque star. If they didn’t have a career path in mind, we were certain they would all be Future 6th Graders. Once those stars were affixed to the paper, they chose a paint color and left their mark in the form of handprints. Thus, the Fifth Grade Hall of Fame was born! The fifth graders relished leaving their mark, while younger students got excited for their future moment in the hall of fame. We ended the transition week with a drop-by visit to the sixth-grade building during their last class of the day. Students wandered around, reintroduced themselves to sixth-grade teachers, poked their heads into classrooms, and started to feel some comfort in their new home.
As DA continues to grow and change, we adapt right along with it. I do miss having the sixth-grade students and teachers just across the hall, but finding ways to build that connection this year has been a fun challenge.
Good luck, new sixth graders! And, don’t forget to visit!