Prep class serves as a prologue to further study

Samantha Sharman remembers walking onto the La Cañada High School campus her first day of seventh grade back in the '80s and feeling like a small fish in a big pond.

Gone were the kindergartners and small-school feel of La Cañada Elementary, replaced by large crowds, multiple class periods and students with beards.

"I felt scared," the 1991 LCHS graduate recalled. "It was just the fear of not knowing what was going to go on. "

Now Sharman, a full-time tutor and former LCHS substitute teacher, wants to give incoming seventh-graders the tools and confidence they need to make a smooth and seamless transition to middle school life.

Every summer, she leads a monthlong seventh-grade prep class on the La Cañada High School campus designed to get kids comfortable with their new school and the increased expectations they will face come fall.

In addition to study pointers and basic math and English lessons, Sharman offers insider tips for navigating school grounds, setting personal and academic goals and making the most of the student-teacher relationship.

"It just gets them a little more acclimated and more confident, so by the time August comes around, they'll be like, 'I've got this,'" she said.

The Monday through Friday curriculum centers around a different daily theme or activity. On Campus World Wednesdays, for example, students familiarize themselves with the school grounds, learning what to do when they are sick or arrive late.

A recent morning — Tea Time Tuesday — found six girls and seven boys munching on snacks as they tackled the five-paragraph essay, a middle-school writing standard. On the board, Sharman drew five bubbles representing the sections of an essay.

First comes the hook, the opening line intended to draw the reader in, she explained. Next goes the restatement of the book or article being discussed and the vital thesis, followed by three supporting body paragraphs and finally a conclusion.

Afterward, students broke into small groups and were given envelopes containing an essay broken into pieces. Their task? Arrange the components, in order, according to the structure they just learned.

So far, less than one week in, Sharman's approach seems to be working.

During a fire drill that interrupted Tuesday's session, students shared their thoughts on the class and their expectations for seventh-grade.

"At first, I didn't want to do it," Gabi Connell, 11, said of the class. "But then I thought it was a good idea, so on my first day of school I wouldn't be scared and freaked out, I'd be prepared."

Quin Van De Voorde, 12, was advised by her older sister to acclimate herself to the new environment, which seemed like a good idea.

"It's a big jump from sixth grade to a big school," Van De Voorde said.

"Yeah, it's weird going from having 5-year-olds around you to people who shave every day," agreed Brooke Weyand, 12.

All said they liked the lessons and were looking forward to learning more.

Mother Suzette Moran said she was amazed to see daughter Heather Richardson, the youngest of three, actually getting amped up for the first day of school.

"My youngest does not particularly like school in general, and she's already so excited about junior high school that she can't stand it," said Moran, who used to substitute teach with Sharman. "For [Heather] to be excited about all that, it's fantastic."

Sharman chalks up her easy rapport with the students to her fondness for this particular age group and the struggles they are facing.

"They're not tiny people, and they're not big people — they're just stuck in the middle," she said.


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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