ST. PETERSBURG — It was hard to tell Thursday who was more anxious during Tyrone Middle School's sixth-grade orientation.
Like their children, some parents wore worried expressions as they were ushered into the gym. With big, round eyes, students looked around for seats on the bleachers. Several girls folded their arms in front of them, and a few boys stuffed their hands in their pockets.
Getting lost and being tardy topped the list of worries. And students like Alexander Grafe, 11, said they were trying not to pay too much attention to rumors of bullying from older kids.
"I know most of them aren't true," he said.
His mom, Karen Grafe, 39, was the first to admit that she's just as apprehensive as her only child.
"There are a million hallways. Where are the classrooms and where are the lockers?" she asked.
Many middle schools in Pinellas County are offering sixth-graders and their parents orientations to help take the edge off the transition from elementary to middle school.
"The last thing you want to do is to overwhelm a child," said Stephanie Adkinson, Tyrone's principal.
District administrators hope the orientations will ease anxiety and dispel myths such as being shoved into lockers, said Stephanie Joyner, the district's middle school director.
It definitely helps students when they get to see the lockers, she said. "It gives them a chance to get a lay of the land, to see that middle school is okay," she said.
Each middle school will have an open house for students, but how they are structured and whether sixth-grade orientations are offered varies from school to school, Joyner said.
At Morgan Fitzgerald Middle in Largo, school administrators and teachers simulated what it's like being in middle school by dividing the orientations on Wednesday and Thursday into five "classes."
The sessions included a campus tour, talk about middle school social life by a panel of older students, and of course, lockers, said principal Bill Corbett.
Such sessions prepare students for being in a much larger school, Corbett said. Fitzgerald Middle projects an enrollment of 1,345 students this year, with 525 of them in sixth grade.
School officials at Tyrone Middle also offered a glimpse into how the lives of the 252 incoming sixth-graders would change in two weeks.
They will have to deal with seven teachers and classes and meet 25 to 30 new classmates in each. Tyrone is going on a block schedule where seven classes are divided into an eight-day rotation.
There will be no more portable classrooms at the school, and all students have to take PE.
They'll get new lockers — which students were advised not to visit during the four-minute passing time between classes.
"And pull your pants up and your shirts down," Cheri Ashwood, Tyrone Middle's sixth-grade guidance counselor, said to parental applause.
For some parents, the orientations induced memories of more stressful days.
Kevin Dort, whose daughter Maria will attend Fitzgerald, recalled how he struggled at first in middle school.
"When I went to school, I floundered for two to three weeks before I was comfortable changing classes and hallways," he said. "Having schools provide this well-attended event is an excellent tool for students to get used to this, so they can jump right in."
Principals Adkinson and Corbett also each offered some soothing words to parents.
"Give them a couple of days," Corbett said. "They're kids. They're resilient."