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A cool end to the summer
Students make their way through ECMS' gauntlet
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MacKenzie Spires, Justice Loury and Kristin Carey finish off watermelon slices as they finish their two weeks of the Summer Gauntlet Academy at Effingham County Middle School. Their T-shirts were donated by Springfield Chrysler.

There was watermelon at the end of this gauntlet.

Effingham County Middle School conducted its first summer gauntlet, getting more than a dozen rising sixth graders ready for the new world of middle school. For eight days over two weeks, soon-to-be middle schoolers went over school work and got used to their new surroundings.

Not that there wasn’t time for fun.

“Some of it’s been games,” said Jennifer King, an ECMS teacher. “Some of it’s been direct instruction.”
“Some of it’s been work,” said Kristin Carey, one of the students. “We’ve been learning and playing games, and it’s fun.”

The gauntlet ended Thursday as 14 students finished the program, with as many as 16 giving up two weeks of the summer as the school year beckons.

“We know going from fifth grade to sixth grade is a difficult transition for a lot of kids,” ECMS principal Rob Porterfield said.

So Porterfield, with the help of a few teachers and the school counseling staff, recruited students to take part in the program. As many as 16 students took part, with sessions from July 9-12 and July 16-19. Kids were in the gauntlet from 9 a.m.-noon each of those days.

“We concentrated on problem solving, mathematics, comprehension and reading,” Porterfield said.

As faculty members worked on students’ classroom skills, counselors addressed their social and organizational skills.

“Our counselors worked on their note-taking and on how to get along,” Porterfield said. “The idea is to get them a head start in middle school. Maybe they’ll be a little more well-inclined to do well in school.

“It was just something we felt we needed to do,” he said.

Targeted students were asked to attend, meaning their attendance wasn’t mandatory.

“The attendance is wonderful,” Porterfield said. “It’s all voluntary. They didn’t have to come. The first day they came here, they weren’t very excited about having part of their summer taken away. After a couple of days, we tried to make it enjoyable for them. I think they enjoyed it.”

It also meant having to draw upon teachers and staff to give up some of their remaining summer, for which Porterfield was grateful.

“The faculty and counseling staff have been wonderful,” he said.

The students also got used to what will be their new surroundings, which could take some of the anxiety out of starting at a new school.

“This is to help get them the lay of the land,” King said. “They’ll know where things are.”

She believes the program will be a big benefit for the students who took part.

“They now have a little more confidence  than a normal sixth grader,” King said. “When you go to high school and when you go to college, one of the keys is knowing where you’re going.”

The program also has helped to refresh the students’ memories after about two months of probably not a lot of studying.

“We’ve worked with them on their studying skills,” King said. “Students always lose some over the summer and this helps them regain what they lost.”

There also have been word problems and problem solving for the students.

“The problem solving was fun,” Carey said.

Said Tyler Godfrey: “It’s work, mostly. It’s fun work, though.”

With the inaugural gauntlet complete, Porterfield wants it to become an annual session.

“We’re getting them on the right track now so they’ll be ready for school,” King said.