Best Way to Start Off the School Year
Middle schoolers experience lots of anxiety when they start a new school year. They switch teachers for all their classes and face higher expectations. They meet new people and need to figure out new social norms. Their changing body feels awkward and causes self-consciousness. Emotions can be intense and last longer than they are used to feeling.
It can be very overwhelming starting the new year while experiencing all of these changes. Students don’t feel confident and sometimes act out or show off to push away their negative feelings. These moments create embarrassment and start the cycle of social anxiety that many of us associate with middle school. So what’s the best way to start off the school year to inspire success?
One effective method to help students through this transition period is to connect them with the outdoors. A small outdoor trip at the beginning of the school year provides students with an immediate opportunity to build confidence. The challenge of climbing a mountain or carrying a full backpack serves as a good outlet for their pent up anxiety. Instead of feeling alone and isolated in a new environment, they immediately feel part of a team with a shared goal.
Another benefit of these start of the year trips is a more comfortable introduction to their peers. By placing students into a small trip group instead of a large classroom, many students are able to make friends easier. The classroom setting has the tendency to increase feelings of anxiety. Many students report they experience “a spotlight effect” when they sit in a classroom of strangers. They worry they are being watched and judged by how they act and answer questions. A trip keeps everyone focused on the natural world around them instead of what their peers are doing. It gives them activities to focus on and shared memories that ignite friendships.
Outdoor trips also inspire curiosity and hands-on learning. While hiking, students notice geological formations and question how they were formed. They inquire about the plants and animals they see. They learn new skills that they will use throughout their lives. Language Arts classes can use the students’ experiences as writing prompts for reflection. Math classes can figure out the group’s overall velocity and apply that knowledge to plan future trips.
At AMS we have found starting each year with a three days backpacking trip is the perfect way to set up our students for success. Instead of feeling anxious and scared, our students feel confident and excited to start the year.
By Nicholas Maldonado