Luis Burrola, CIS Site Coordinator at Ortiz Middle School and Hornet Connection facilitator
When many of us think back to the time we were nudged out of the nest and forced to make the leap from elementary to middle school, we're reminded of the feelings of worry and apprehension stirred up by that rite of passage. Leaving the comfort of a familiar setting to join the ranks of bigger and older kids, going to a place where strangers from other schools are converging, learning a new schedule with multiple classrooms and teachers each day — it can be a daunting transition, and one that is fraught with anxiety for many students.
In order to belay these fears and make for a smoother crossover, CIS Site Coordinator Luis Burrola runs an important program at Ortiz Middle school called The Hornet Connection, named after the school's mascot. It's designed to introduce 5th grade students at each of the three elementary schools feeding into Ortiz (Cesar Chavez, Ramirez Thomas, and Sweeney), to the school they'll be attending the following year. The 5th grade students take a field trip to the middle school and get to familiarize themselves with the staff, students, and layout before they ever start attending.
Above: Ortiz Middle School, 4164 S. Meadows Rd. in Santa Fe
Below: CIS Site Coordinator Luis Burrola and 8th grade students welcome visiting 5th graders to Ortiz
A 5th grader's typical visit to Ortiz begins in the gymnasium, where Luis conducts an assembly to introduce the young students to the school's key administrative staff. He makes sure they understand rules and expectations, but also ensures students know who to turn to if they're being bullied or need access to the many resources CIS provides. Students then get to listen to words of advice from a group of Ortiz 8th graders — things like, "Don't put your homework off until the last minute or you'll be struggling," and "Don't worry about what other kids say about you; you're perfect the way you are."
Next, students are divided up into English and Spanish-speaking groups, and are taken on guided tours of the school by the 8th graders. Luis says the 5th graders relate better to the older students than they do to adults, and spending time together allows them to get a better sense of what middle school is really like. They visit several different classrooms and departments, and have the opportunity to meet many of the teachers they'll be learning from. Once the tour is completed, students return to the gym to sign up for electives, and by the time students are ready to leave, many of their worries have been dispelled. "You can see it on their faces. When they come in, they're wide-eyed and nervous, but when they leave, they're smiling and giving high fives," says Luis.
Physical Education instructor Matt Martinez discusses athletics at Ortiz with visiting 5th grade students
In addition to easing a challenging transition, the program helps ensure continuity of CIS supports from one school to another. CIS Site Coordinator Hilda Perez-Vargas has worked with many of the 5th graders that will be leaving Cesar Chavez Elementary to attend Ortiz Middle School next year. She and Luis get together with Wellness Teams at both schools to ensure that students in need of support — whether academic, social-emotional, basic needs, or other — are identified and carefully tracked from one site coordinator to the next.
Students will participate in a similar program again in a few years when they make the transition from Ortiz to Capital High School. Jaguar Connection, the first school connection program in the district, was created by CIS Site Coordinator Heather Sellers four years ago when she recognized the need to provide support to Capital's incoming freshmen. In fact,Jaguar Connection laid the groundwork for the school connection model, and has since been adopted by a growing network of other schools throughout Santa Fe.
"Anytime you face transition, you run the risk of experiencing anxiety, depression, or even trauma. The Hornet Connection alleviates some of that. CIS is creating a model where children are supported from kindergarten all the way up through 12th grade."
- Luis Burrola, CIS Site Coordinator,
Ortiz Middle School