DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee referees a tug-of-war game between groups of sixth graders at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast. Stuart-Hobson Middle School counts among 11 District public schools hosting a sixth grade academy. (Courtesy of DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee via X)
DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee referees a tug-of-war game between groups of sixth graders at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast. Stuart-Hobson Middle School counts among 11 District public schools hosting a sixth grade academy. (Courtesy of DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee via X)

Thousands of sixth graders started their first week of middle school navigating a new environment and setting the stage for a chapter in their academic career that’s focused on skill building, socioemotional development, and the shaping of a career trajectory. 

With the launch of D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) sixth grade academies, young people at nearly a dozen public middle schools can fulfill these goals with the support of an assistant principal, along with numerous teachers and staff members who are dedicated to giving them the ideal sixth grade experience. 

Kwynn Turner, a sixth grader at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast, said she’s looking forward to thought-provoking classes and field trips that will help her tap into her creative side. 

“I hope I can have a good year learning all that I need,” said Kwynn, an aspiring game designer. “Young people have a good imagination and [we want teachers to know] we are thinking about what’s on our mind when we’re daydreaming. We take the information [we learn] in class and project it.” 

DCPS Officials Introduce Sixth Grade Academies at Stuart-Hobson Middle School

On Aug. 29, Kwynn counted among dozens of sixth graders who converged on Stuart-Hobson Middle School’s gymnasium for a pep rally that commemorated the launch of DCPS’ sixth grade academies. That afternoon, the Stuart-Hobson Middle School Panther Band played a couple of electrifying numbers and cheerleaders executed a dance routine. 

Both performances set the tone for commentary from school and District officials, along with a volleyball and tug-of-war competition. 

Speakers included DCPS Chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, Stuart-Hobson Middle School principal Eric Fraser, Andral Hills, the sixth grade academy vice principal at Stuart-Hobson Middle School, and Kennedy Starke, a seventh grader who gave sixth graders gems of advice and words of affirmation. 

Students also heard from Greg Dohmann, DCPS’ director of sixth grade academies. 

Dohmann, former principal of Johnson Middle School Academy,  is leading a team of sixth grade academy assistant principals who are working at Stuart-Hobson, Brookland Middle School, Eliot-Hine Middle School, Hart Middle School, Jefferson Middle School, Johnson Middle School, MacFarlane Middle School, Ida B. Wells Middle School, John Philip Sousa Middle School, Kramer Middle School and Kelly Miller Middle School.  

Each month, Dohmann will meet with those assistant principals, all of whom have experience as administrators in the D.C. public school system, to discuss how best to chart a path to, what he described as, increased attendance, significant growth in math and reading proficiency, and students’ sense of belonging. 

A strategy that Dohmann pointed out involves working with families to ensure that sixth graders receive consistent messaging between school and home about assignments and expectations. 

“Middle school is the most critical [time] when students are most vulnerable, opinions of peers mean more than anything, and when they take ownership of their education,” Dohmann said. “We have to make sure we have that transition. This is year one, a time to elevate best practices.” 

A Couple of Sixth Grade Academy Assistant Principals Outline Their Vision 

DCPS’ sixth grade academies build upon its sixth grade summer bridge program, during which rising sixth graders and staff members establish relationships through field trips, team building exercises, school scavenger hunts, and presentations about high school. 

This year, 1,400 sixth graders at 11 DCPS Title I schools are enrolled in a sixth grade academy. 

The transition from elementary school to middle school has been described as the most significant shift for students in K-12 education, due to expanded campus size and course load, changing interactions with teachers and new academic expectations. This stage has been designated by the American Psychological Association as a period when young people develop decision-making abilities and make more inferences about their world. 

At Stuart-Hobson, Hills has set her sights on identifying students’ areas of strength and ensuring that they have mastered algebra by the eighth grade. She said that Ferebee, Dohmann, Fraser, DCPS instructional superintendent Harry Hughes, sixth grade teachers and parents are part of a team that will pour into students from every angle. 

Hills, formerly a Rigorous Instruction Supports Equity (RISE) principal at Turner Elementary School in Southeast, told the Informer that fostering a relationship with students will lay the foundation for the results she hopes to achieve in her role. 

“When students are loved, they will soar to higher heights,” Hills said. “This begins with connecting with students daily [with] a genuine check-in to learn about their night and plans. They have imaginations [so] we’re aligning their strengths to their goals so they can compete in a global marketplace to design innovative technology that will continue to support us.” 

At Johnson Middle School in Southeast, Rashida Young has similar goals for her sixth graders. 

Young, the sixth grade academy assistant principal at Johnson Middle School, told the Informer that each sixth grader will be paired with a Panther adult champion. Additionally, each sixth grader will have an opportunity to join a Future Ready Academy that takes them through either an arts, sports management or STEM pathway. 

For Young, such support will better ensure that students are equipped with the tools needed for academic success while in middle school. Areas of focus include increasing in-seat attendance and student growth in math and reading, and seeing to it that more students have a sense of belonging, as expressed in what’s called the Panorama Survey

“One common barrier sixth grade students often experience entering middle school is making new friends and lack of organizational skills. In knowing this, collectively my team intentionally planned Unit 0 to promote building and sustaining healthy relationships, self-efficacy, and we’ve incorporated morning hallway huddles to build community,” said Young, a former DCPS Connected Schools manager. “These past four days have been amazing to watch as our eager sixth graders begin to thrive using strategies their teachers have embedded in their lessons using the Leader in Me curriculum.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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