Some advice on middle school, from your friendly (elementary school) alumni

photo of Think College Now alumni panel by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

There are probably all kinds of fancy ways to describe the transition from elementary school to middle school, but 13-year-old Nhat Tran probably put it best: “a small world to a big world.”

Nhat goes to Roosevelt Middle School now, along with another nearly 700 kids. He says he likes it “OK,” but he sure misses the nurturing cocoon that was his elementary school, Think College Now.

Yesterday evening, Nhat and other alumni returned to their elementary alma mater. As part of an agreement that every graduating Think College Now fifth-grader makes in exchange for a $1,000 college scholarship, they must return to an alumni reunion each year, through high school, with their report cards. It’s a way for the school to keep tabs on their students once they leave, and to make sure they stay on track.

Nhat and five other middle schoolers —  representing charter, private and district schools — were invited to speak on an “alumni panel,” pictured above, and to answer questions from Think College Now fifth-graders. Here are some words of wisdom I wish I had received when I was 11 (given during the panel and in interviews afterward):

“Don’t think you can go crazy because that’s not true” – Claudia Gonzalez, seventh grade, Lighthouse Community Charter School.

“It’s fast-paced. … Never get behind, because it’s hard to catch up.” – Mario Valadez, seventh grade, Oakland Charter Academy.

“I just want to say, going to middle school isn’t the biggest thing in the world. Just be calm.'” – Viviana Cervantes, sixth grade, Head Royce.

“Don’t let nobody take you down.” – Andre Johnson, sixth grade, Coliseum College Prep.

“If you believe in your dream, then you can achieve it.” – Nhat Tran, seventh grade, Roosevelt Middle School.

What advice would you give to a kid who’s about to enter middle school? Should more elementary schools follow the lead of Think College Now to prepare their kids to move successfully into “a big world?”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Catherine

    From the Montera Middle School students that have spoken at my daughter’s elementary school we find the same advice. Good for these students for speaking out to help others. Sage advice from such young people.

  • Jose


    In todays paper you said this was a high achiving school. What does that mean to you? I am in college now, and my professors encourage us to stick to the facts.

    I looked into Think College Now. Their student’s test scores drop each year as they move up each grade. Only 45% of the 5th graders were proficient or higher in Language Arts and 33% in Math.

    The school’s API droped from 789 in 2007 to 781 in 2008. Does the state education department consider this a high performing school?


  • Katy Murphy

    “Does the state education department consider this a high performing school?”

    In short: yes.

    Think College Now is a California Distinguished School, a distinction awarded by the state education department based, primarily, on test scores.

  • Jose


    What year did they win this Distinguished School Award? Are the standards that low in our state, when over 50% of the students are failing Math and Language Arts at the 5th grade?


  • Katy Murphy

    Last spring. Here’s a link to the state’s 2008 eligibility criteria:


  • Jose


    California Department of Education has very low standards.


  • Beyond Bakesales

    There is no magic bullet. I’m very familiar with the whole selection process of Distinguished School Awards, and although it is an interesting opportunity for schools to do some “self reflection,” please don’t go overboard by its significance. Did you know that there are school districts that hire consultants to help prepare their nomination applications? That some districts (not OUSD)actually pay staff for the extra time it takes to pull one of these together?

    And, other than the pat on the back and temporary bragging rights, schools get ZERO for being so recognized. California DOE is all about sticks and no carrots.

    But, for those of you parents of elementary and middle school children who are trying to “think college now,” please remember that YOU (and your educational background, especially if you are the mother) are the most statistically signficant indicator of your child’s success.

    Our kids are at Skyline and they have received a comprehensive, challenging education (socially and academically). Our son, who is a senior, has been accepted at all of the UCs he applied to, including UCLA and Berkeley. And, here’s the key: he took as challenging a course load as he could (lots of AP classes), he showed up to class, and he did the work, simple as that.