Clubs build connections with middle school counterparts March 15, 2023 — by Sam Bai and Jonny Luo Photo by Anthony WangSenior Anthony Wang and two assistant coaches, sophomore Skyler Mao and freshman Lawson Wang, teach four students in Redwood’s black team. These efforts have helped smooth middle schoolers’ transition into high school. As clubs and extracurriculars become increasingly popular, high school students have begun outreach to middle schoolers to encourage younger students to build both their skills and passions. MSET Cuttlefish mentors middle-school counterparts Starting last September, members of Saratoga’s MSET Cuttlefish robotics team began weekly outreach sessions with their middle school FTC equivalents, providing feedback on their game strategy and working through often complicated design processes. For example, at the beginning of this year’s season, one of the middle school teams’ robots had difficulties with their pick-up mechanism and the orientation of their cones, which are moved in order to score points. The Cuttlefish team was able to help them orient them properly. “We interact a lot with the [middle school] FTC and Vex teams, especially near the start of the season,” said junior Kai Otsuka, Cuttlefish software member. “We discuss strategies, game mechanics, prototyping and iterate over previous designs.” In addition, the team also gives presentations during the summer to help middle schoolers learn more about robotics and host their own tournaments. While the main goal of all these endeavors is to help the middle school teams, Otsuka said they have the added benefits of helping middle schoolers learn the values of the high school team and easing their transition into the upper level robotics scene. When he was a middle schooler, Otsuka was visited by the high school MSET team members, including current team lead and robotics co-president senior Trevor Leung. This outreach motivated him to continue with the program as a high schooler and later engage in efforts to help the middle school teams. “The game [in high school robotics] is hard, so these programs allow us to mentor the middle school teams, inspire them to join high school robotics and teach them our values of courteous professionalism and hard work,” Otsuka said. Speech and debate performs in front of middle schoolers and their parents Although the middle and high school speech and debate organizations are separate, they collaborated on Feb. 2 to showcase the high school speech and debate team. Middle schoolers were invited to a dinner with their parents to encourage high school club participation. “We presented mock debates and individual speeches and all the middle schoolers could toggle between speech and debate to see what they were interested in,” said junior Naina Tallak, who competes in Original Interpretation. “The high schoolers talked with the middle schoolers to see if they were interested or not.” Speeches covered an array of events: Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Original Oratory, Original Advocacy and Original Interpretation. Debate performed their Public Forum debate topic regarding right-to-work laws in the Student Center. High school club members later answered any questions that the middle schoolers posed. The event also served the dual purpose of helping high school speech and debate members practice speaking in front of an audience. Band and orchestra host tutoring sessions The Music Education with Saratoga High (MESH) Program hosts yearly benefit concerts with their middle school counterparts and, more recently, began tutoring middle school students in music. The program is split into two divisions: band and orchestra. The student-run program was founded in 2010 by alumnus Walter Hsiang and hosts a yearly benefit concert where high school students mentor middle school students through rehearsals. The money raised goes toward the Bay Area Harmony Project, which helps low income families pursue musical education. “[Through the benefit concert], we’re able to advocate for musical education at a local and regional level,” senior violinist and orchestra head manager Carolyn Pyun said. For the past three years, MESH has also been tutoring middle schoolers, many of whom are new to their instrument. According to Pyun, there are roughly 40 mentors and 120 students who meet weekly for the combined band and orchestra divisions. The high schooler volunteers used to physically attend middle school music classes and tutor in-person. During COVID-19, the program shifted to one-hour private online tutoring sessions, and as restrictions eased, changed to a hybrid format during the 2021-22 school year, where mentors and mentees chose online or in-person teaching. This year, all lessons are done in-person at the high school music building or in mentors’ houses. Pyun, who mentored students during her junior and senior years, found the experience to be “incredibly valuable and insightful.” “The goal of the program is ultimately to encourage students in middle school by giving them high school mentors and an opportunity to ask about high school music life,” Pyun said. “By connecting that way, the students are better equipped for high school and also have an upper class mentor to talk to in high school, encouraging them to continue their musical experience.” Math team coaches Toga Junior Math Club On Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., 15 to 20 students from the Toga Math Club go to Redwood Middle School to coach middle schoolers as part of Toga Junior Math Club (TJMC), with the coaches split between four groups: black, blue, green and yellow. “For each group, you have a head coach, one or more assistant coaches and rotation coaches,” senior math club liaison Nilay Mishra said. “Rotational coaches are first time coaches; they rotate between groups in an equal amount of time to get an idea of which group they’d be the best fit for.” In addition to regular coaching, 12 to 15 middle schoolers are chosen to join a Mathcounts squad that practices together throughout winter break, taking tests and reviewing problem solving strategies with more experienced high schoolers. Along with the regular Tuesday meetups, they also study together on Wednesdays and Fridays. “Not only do middle school students benefit, high school mentors also get valuable experience,” Mishra said. “Teaching allows high schoolers to understand and build empathy for their students while also forcing them to wonder, ‘how can I best explain what I already know.’”. Through coaching middle school students, many of the high school coaches are able to give back to the community. “A lot of the head coaches and the normal coaches are former TMJC members,” Mishra said. “They have participated in the clubs and they learned from high schoolers when they were younger. They have this sense of wanting to give back, wanting to teach the new generation and wanting to use the same ideas and principles to guide them.” About the contributorsJonny LuoJonny Luo, Class of '24, is an Editor-in-Chief of the 2023-24 staff. He was previously an In-Depth editor and reporter/layout artist. He has written about district and student responses to COVID-19, profiles on staff, and columns about his favorite pastimes (puzzles, boba, and the like—such as giving up on school cookies).