When school starts in August, it’s going to be smooth sailing for about 85 Sierra Vista Unified School District seventh-graders as they cruise from elementary to middle school.

Thanks to the district’s “Summer Cruise” program, incoming Joyce Clark Middle School (JCMS) students are learning how to open combination locks, rotate from one class to the next efficiently and work together through team building activities, while becoming familiar with the layout of the campus. The two-week program also familiarizes the new middle schoolers with campus rules and gives them opportunities to meet some of their teachers and other classmates, making the transition from elementary school less intimidating.

“This year, Summer Cruise started on June 10, and goes Monday through Thursday for two weeks, to June 20,” said JCMS physical education teacher Lynn Klabough who has been one of the program coordinators for the past eight years. “We have 85 incoming students enrolled, and 10 eighth-graders — we call them ‘first mates’ because of the cruise theme — who are helping with the program.”

Kyla Gross, 11, is making the transition into JCMS from Bella Vista Elementary School.

“Summer Cruise is a good opportunity for us to see the school and learn where everything is,” she said. “I’m glad I’m doing this because it’s going to help me feel more comfortable about starting middle school this fall.”

Helping seventh-grade students who couldn’t attend the program is something Madison Martin, 12, said she is looking forward to.

“This whole program is very organized, and it’s really helping me,” she said. “I think it’s good that we’re learning how the school campus is laid out and what to expect when school starts. I want to help students that can’t be here.”

It’s all the hands-on activities and hanging out with her friends that Violet Perry, 11, enjoys most about her Summer Cruise experience.

For Social Studies teacher Brittany Gonzales, this marks her first year as a participant in the program.

“I love it because it teachers our incoming seventh-graders to be leaders in our school because they’re going to be able to help the other students with lockers and show the kids around campus.”

Sitting cross-legged on JCMS gymnasium floor, Josh Smith-Pigman, 11, was intently working on opening combination locks Monday morning.

The former Pueblo del Sol student said he’s looking forward to middle school.

“I like the whole idea of rotating around to different classes, and that we’re going to have lockers,” he said. “My favorite part of Summer Cruise is opening padlocks, and working at getting faster. I’m looking forward to starting math and social studies classes here.”

It was 11-year-old Damien Volgende, another former PDS student, who was recognized as the fastest lock opener with a time of 3.8 seconds.

Seventh-grade science teacher Edith Mendoza was busy overseeing the “escape room,” where the students worked in teams to figure out riddles and puzzles while practicing perseverance.

“These are hands-on activities are designed to teach them mind set, growth and to never give up, Mendoza said. “The activities help them work as a team as they figure things out.”

Somewhere between 350 and 400 students are expected to be enrolled at JCMS when the 2019-2020 school year starts, Klabough said.

“We never know the exact enrollment number until after registration,” she said. “The seventh-graders who attend Summer Cruise get a good grasp of what to expect when they start middle school and are a big help when it comes to the lockers and class rotation. It’s helps things run more smoothly those first few days of school.”

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