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November 08. 2012 12:28PM

Bedford program helps students make smooth transition to freshman year


Many of the Bedford middle schoolers who joined BASE Camp, shown here, found the transition to high school easier. In this photo, Base Camp participants top off their experience with a climb up Mount Monadnock. (Courtesy Photo)

BEDFORD - Like most incoming freshmen, McKenzie Willis and Tyler Assetta had serious concerns before entering Bedford High School. Academics, social pressures and just getting around the new building were causes for the gravest anxiety.

“I thought it was going to be scary because of the upper classmen,” Willis said with a smile.

“I thought I was going to get shoved into a locker,” Assetta agreed, grinning.

The two are alumni of the first Bedford Academic and Social Education (BASE) Camp, a summer program set up by guidance staff to ease the transition from middle school to high school.

Though neither signed up for BASE Camp voluntarily – they have their parents to thank for that – both reported big benefits and said they’d recommend it to any ninth-grader-to-be.

Zanna Blaney, a guidance councilor at BHS, said it’s like a mix of college freshman orientation and summer camp.

“The idea of BASE Camp is the idea that you really need a strong foundation before you build the structure,” Blaney.

The program was designed for kids to address the range of concerns associated with entering the high school: What will classes be like? Are seniors mean? What are competencies? How do I navigate the looming three-story building?

The aim was to draw as diverse a grouping of kids as the high school has to offer – not only did they seek kids with struggling grades, but also overachievers.

“We always think there’s power in a very diverse group,” Blaney said. “We don’t want a certain type of student – we want everybody to get involved. And that’s what we ended up with. We had athletes, we had bookworms, we had wallflowers, we had the outgoing types.”

A normal day included student-led discussions, lessons, guest speakers and journaling, among other physical and social activities.

Campers explored the BHS edifice through three scavenger hunts. When school began they had an edge on their classmates by knowing exactly how to negotiate the halls, wings and staircases.

Meeting with teachers, kids discussed the role of homework and competencies, and other topics that came to mind. A visit from four BHS alumni allowed them to interview real-life high school survivors.

School administrators also came in, explaining their jobs and under what circumstances a student might seek them out. They even played games with the kids.

“It was really great to put them on the same playing field and see that these people are approachable,” Blaney said. “These are people you can go to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or lost in a really big building.”

Along with Blaney and a BHS Spanish teacher, guidance councilor Kristi Torbick was among the three BASE Camp councilors. Torbick said the students created a garden alongside their peers with disabilities.

“At the end of the week they not only built the garden and met with the LSE students,” she said, “but we had a little ribbon-cutting ceremony and then the LSE students took over the garden after the week was over.”

Torbick said studies show students often struggle with the transition into high school, though she noted that in a top district like Bedford this is less frequent.

Councilors are keeping a close eye on how BASE Camp alumni are faring in their new school, Blaney said, checking in with their counterparts at Lurgio to ensure kids aren’t slipping through the cracks.

Of the school’s 350 freshmen, 30 kids signed up for BASE Camp, doubling organizers’ expectations. In the future, they’d like every incoming freshman to participate in the week-long camp.

The fee is $150, and students receiving subsidized lunch can get scholarships.

BASE Camp was sponsored by a $1,000 grant from the Bedford Education Foundation, which funds projects that go above and beyond the normal curriculum.

Paul Brock, chairman of the foundation, has wanted to get the message out about BASE Camp for some time.

“I said, hey, this (program) is terrific,” Brock said. “More people in town should know about the neat work that’s going on here.”

Though the BEF aims to bootstrap initiatives so they can stand on their own feet, Brock said the foundation would consider funding it again for the summer of 2013. That’s if the School Board doesn’t approve funding for it within the school budget, which is what the guidance councilors are hoping for.

On the last day of BASE Camp, kids hiked Pack Monadnock in Temple. Though it was a rainy day they toughed it out and clambered to the highest peak in the county – a metaphor for the challenges they will face over the next four years.

“The whole thing was a good lesson,” Torbick said, “because it showed that everything isn’t going to be easy in high school. And so you go forth anyway, and then in the end, we got to the top and the sun came out.”


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