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The secret to a smooth Year 7 transition? Continuity and change

Interdisciplinary studies enable students to explore and problem-solve big questions: from left, Ocean Luk, Annika Ridd and Amelie Bayliss in the design technology hub at the Glen Waverley Campus

The move to Year 7 is a major step for students. What’s the secret to ensuring it’s a smooth transition? Ensuring there’s a blend of continuity and change, as Steven Coshutt, Simon Thompson and Rob Gow explain.

Year 7 at Wesley is many things. It’s the first year at Wesley for many students arriving from primary school but it’s also the middle year in our Middle School, which caters for students from Years 5 to 9. That means that when our Year 7 students arrive on their first day of the school year, there’s a mix of new students and current students.

A smooth transition to Year 7

With many students joining us in Year 5 and more at Year 7, we’re careful to manage the blend of continuity and change, crafting our Middle School programs to provide learning and pastoral care experiences so every student is engaged as they progress through adolescence to young adulthood. The Middle School is a smaller environment nested within a larger campus, providing greater opportunities for everyone to feel they belong and get to know each other while still providing all the specialist facilities, staff expertise and cocurricular opportunities you’d expect in a large school.

Student snapshot

Elsternwick Year 7 student Thomas Bassett recognised that transitioning to a new environment can be difficult. ‘I was anxious that I may not fit in or that I would have a few lonely lunch times, but this wasn’t the case,’ Thomas said. ‘I and other new students were welcomed into the community with immense care, consideration and flexibility. I was surrounded by kind peers and amazing, smart teachers who helped me to immerse myself in new opportunities that were popping up faster than I could keep count.

‘One of those was the opportunity to go for a role as a Middle School leader. That’s given me confidence to try new things, like starting the clarinet, and joining the band and string ensemble, and joining the high-performance tennis program has been a great experience. I’ve learned so much in Maths, English, Science, French and many more subjects. If I had to describe Wesley in one word, I’d say “inclusive.” I’ve quickly become, and am proudly now, a Wesley student.’

‘An unforgettable year’: that’s how Glen Waverley Year 7 student Sienna Rowe describes her Year 7 experience. ‘My learning is enabled by having lots of opportunities to participate. In my first year at Wesley, I was lucky enough to be joined by some friends from primary school, but my friendship group grew within days: everyone was very welcoming, students and teachers,’ Sienna said. ‘I was very excited to learn new subjects like Design, Dance, Drama, Individuals and Societies, and Music, and to play sport; I chose swimming. It was fun because we were all a team. I was also lucky enough to get a small role in the Years 5-7 musical, another new experience. I also liked House activities like Wesley’s Got Talent and undertaking good deeds through Service Century. Year 7 was an unforgettable year.’

For St Kilda Road Year 7 students Eva McCutcheon, Ava McAvoy, Zoe Shepherd and Emily Robinson, belonging and collaboration are key. As they explain, ‘We really like to see our friends at school and also our teachers. We have learnt many things from working together about having someone to ask for help and the importance of friendship.’

A supportive network

For all our Year 7s, but especially those who have just joined us, the first year of secondary schooling introduces a lot of change – different subjects, more teachers, new friends – so it’s vital that it’s a positive and successful experience. Our Year 7s are involved in lots of activities with peers in other year levels in their Middle School home, but they also have opportunities to do things together in their own year level and their Homeroom teachers work closely with the Year 7 year-level leader to maintain every students’ wellbeing and connection in a caring community.

The network supporting our students includes:

  • Head of Middle School
  • Homeroom teachers
  • Academic teachers
  • Year-level leaders
  • counsellors
  • chaplains, and
  • cocurricular staff.

This network of staff is focussed on ensuring students have the opportunities and support they need to learn and grow academically, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually in ways that respect and acknowledge them as evolving adolescents.

Continuity and change

Our Year 7 students’ learning is guided by the Middle Years Program (MYP), and our new Year 7 students are surrounded by peers who are familiar with the Primary Years Program as they transition into the MYP. The MYP supports an inquiry-based learning approach so students are able to progress in their learning through inquiry and discovery resulting from their engagement in meaningful experiences, not just learning to know, but also to do, to live with and to be.

We’ve also designed our school structure of Junior, Middle and Senior Schools to overlap with our progressive curriculum program. This way, our Year 7 students are able to adapt to their new curriculum program in Middle School, progressing in their learning before they transition to the Senior School.

Our Year 7s consolidate and further develop their knowledge, skills and conceptual understandings within and across Mathematics, Language and Literature, Sciences, Individuals and Societies, Physical and Health Education, Languages like Chinese, French and more, and the Arts and Design, alongside interdisciplinary studies that enable them to explore and problem-solve big questions, especially in STEM.

Student snapshot

For Viktor Krivoruchko, a Year 7 student at the Glen Waverley Campus, change was definitely no barrier. ‘Wesley felt very different to my old school: we move to different classrooms equipped for each subject,’ Viktor said. ‘In settling in, I’ve had to get used to the timetable and working on my laptop. I’ve learnt that a lot of subjects I didn’t enjoy much in my old school became very enjoyable very quickly when I came here, and I hope that keeps happening when I move into Year 8.’

What does the research say?

According to research by Maria Evangelou and colleagues reported in What Makes a Successful Transition from Primary to Secondary School? the key features needed for a successful transition include the provision of support before, during and after the transition, particularly visits to the school such as inductions and taster days; publications with accessible and appropriate information; and support and assistance with lessons and homework including how to make notes, how to write an essay and how to revise. In simple terms, schools enable a successful transition by ensuring there’s plenty of continuity at this time of change and byfocussing on engagement, and they do that bydesigning the Year 7 transition from the perspective of students and their parents.

One of the key indicators of successful transition programs for Evangelou and colleagues was whether there was any drop off in engagement from Year 6 to Year 7. Our Junior, Middle and Senior Schools are designed to engage. Each is a small learning community that enable our teachers to develop an in-depth knowledge of each student in order to engage every one of them, with the support of Homeroom teachers in our Junior and Middle Schools and House tutors in the Senior School. Enabling our students to participate in many year-level and House activities is all about having lots of opportunities to connect and collaborate across the curriculum, including Outdoor Education, but also in sports, the arts, personal development, community service  and social activities that all engender a strong sense of belonging.

As the Australian Council for Educational Research’s Lisa De Bortoli reported in PISA Australia in Focus: Sense of belonging at school, engagement matters because students’ sense of belonging is part of a ‘virtuous circle’: engagement leads to belonging, which leads to motivation, which leads to academic success, which leads to more engagement. For our students, that’s why a smooth transition is vital.

Steven Coshutt is the Head of Middle School at the Elsternwick Campus. Simon Thompson is the Head of Middle School at the Glen Waverley Campus. Rob Gow is the Head of Middle School at the St Kilda Road Campus.

Contact us

Contact us to find out more about Middle School enrolments at our Elsternwick, Glen Waverley and St Kilda Road Campuses.

To see our Elsternwick, Glen Waverley or St Kilda Road Middle Schools in action, we invite you to book a tour.

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