Passages program easing girls' jump to middle school

Meghan Smith, left, laughs as Eva Rowland, right, throws her hands up trying to open a locker during a program called Passages and sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:34 p.m.

Sitting in a full classroom at Fort Clarke Middle School on Monday afternoon, 11-year-old Mikayla Uman fiddled intently with a green and yellow combination lock.



Visit and click on "Passages."

Luckily, a volunteer was there to help her figure out how to get it open — one of the ways a summer program called Passages eases girls' transition from elementary school to middle school.

Passages, an annual two-day middle school orientation sponsored by the Girl Scouts, began Monday at Fort Clarke. It continues at Oak View, Kanapaha, Westwood, Howard Bishop and Lincoln middle schools through early next week.

Mikayla said she was glad she got to meet some teachers and make friends with other girls who would start at Fort Clarke in August. About 30 soon-to-be sixth-grade girls participated in the Fort Clarke session.

"It's a pretty good program because it's telling you how to prepare," she said. Also, "I kind of like how it's all girls."

That last part is important, said Lynda Schladant, membership specialist for the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council.

About six years ago, she said, the Department of Education, along with a few other agencies, did some research and found that the transition from elementary school to middle school is especially hard on girls.

The Girl Scouts then started Passages to help girls feel confident about starting middle school without the distraction of their male peers.

During the program, the girls tour their school, meet school administrators and a teacher or two, make new friends and join in confidence-building exercises.

"It answers their questions," Schladant said.

Among the topics they discuss are bullying, time management and organization, goal-setting and how to balance new extracurricular activities, such as soccer or cheerleading practice, with more classes and possibly more responsibilities at home.

As it applies to their age group, the girls also will talk about how to balance wanted and unwanted attention.

"They'll talk about boys," Schladant said.

But the highlight of Monday's session was the locker tutorial.

After a combination lock demonstration in the classroom, sixth-grade science teacher Terri Schimel took the girls into the hallway to test their skills on the lockers.

Some of them, like 11-year-old Samantha Williamson, got it right away and were recruited by other girls.

"Push it in and turn it back to the right," Samantha said to another girl, watching over her shoulder as her friend Avery Goodman, 10, twirled the knob.

Peals of laughter echoed down the hallway as lockers began to swing open and others stayed stuck. The girls gathered around the lockers in groups of three or four, chatting excitedly with their new friends

"Which way do I turn it first?" They asked each other. "I don't get this. This is hard."

Or, triumphantly, "I got it! I opened a locker!"

Schimel stayed busy reading out combinations and doing demonstrations on just about every locker. The girls get more practice with the locks on the second day of the program.

"It's a two-day process," she said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or

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