The transition from middle to high school can be difficult in many ways for students – academically, emotionally, and socially. To ease that passage, I spent the month of June working with Metro Nashville students through a pilot program to prepare incoming 9th grade students for high school.

Along with preparation for high school, the program aimed to provide support in academics and emotional health to retain students throughout high school and excite them about college opportunities.

I led one of the sites at Cane Ridge High School with the help of an algebra prep, English prep, and enrichment teacher. In preparation for the program, our team created a structure that would rigorously introduce students to the content they would see in 9th grade.

A kindergarten teacher for 10 months of the year, I was thrilled to get to work with students higher in the chain of education, and even more inspired to have a bigger impact on the Nashville public education system.

In addition to English and algebra prep, students took an enrichment course that introduced them to all the critical areas of high school—like GPA, information on college courses, and creating a path to be successful in high school leading up to a dream career.

Throughout week one, we learned that several of the students we believed self-selected into the program for a taste of high school immersion and rigor had actually anticipated a much less rigorous summer camp or had been “encouraged” by their parents to attend.

Without the added bonus of student motivation to push us through our ambitious summer goals, we quickly took on the challenge to make learning fun.

We first adopted a no-excuses attitude and then critically analyzed why our students weren’t enjoying themselves. We decided the academics component couldn’t and shouldn’t be sacrificed, and that we should change our methods and make learning more exciting.

We created team competitions between our three rosters of students, and though the end prize was just a pizza party, students wanted to win. The competition was more effective than we could have imagined.

We also wanted to bond our group of students together to create a social support system not only for the month of June, but for the next four years of high school. Students created a group logo, motto, and chant, and participated in a “Guess Who” game to learn more about each other.

As we worked to develop our students’ long-lasting love of learning, we tried to create projects that related to them personally. By the final week, we saw a more enthusiastic and motivated group of students. Some even personally filled out the application to be part of the year-long program – without the assistance of their parents!

I learned a lot this summer, but I’ll focus on the no-excuses attitude necessary for real change to occur. I’m excited to take those lessons back to my kindergarten students and work to create a deep and strong love for learning that will help carry them through college.