Eva Karmik celebrated her 12th birthday Tuesday by opening a locker again and again and again.
While that may not be the most exciting way to mark another year, it is an essential skill to learn.
After all, Karmik and her seventh grade classmates will be opening their lockers countless times at O’Neill Middle School this school year.
On Aug. 25, they will walk into the school, 635 59th St., Downers Grove, for the first day of classes.
Tuesday was a Sneak Preview Day designed to help students make the transition from elementary to middle school.
Karmik and about 120 classmates were in the second of three sessions Tuesday. More previews were set for Wednesday.
“[It helps] getting ready, just to know what I’m doing right,” Karmik said of the event.
While she is a bit worried about getting around the sprawling building, Karmik looks forward to making new friends.
On Tuesday, students learned the layout of the building, what sports and clubs are offered, how to plot routes between classes and – perhaps most important – how to open those challenging lockers.
“They’re complicated,” Jack O’Brien, 12, said after several failed attempts.
Then, a revelation.
“Oh, you’re supposed to lift up,” O’Brien said after a classmate showed him how the handle works.
The sneak preview also helped educators such as counselor Kelsee Gilleylen. She is new to O’Neill after teaching science at a middle school in West Chicago.
“I came to not only meet the students, but to get a tour of the school,” Gilleylen said. “It’s a really good thing as they transition. It’s always scary the first days. This helps ease their minds a bit.”
That’s the goal, said Krissy Scapellato, a seventh grade social studies teacher. She and Danielle Saenz, an eighth grade English language arts teacher, planned the event.
Tuesday included icebreaking sessions in classrooms as kids introduced themselves to their new classmates.
Wednesday’s event included a mock schedule, complete with just four minutes between classes, and a scavenger hunt cleverly designed to teach students where certain offices and rooms are located.
“I think it helps ease anxiety that seventh graders have about the unknown,” Scapellato said.
She and her fellow teachers were helped by 15 eighth graders wearing bright red “O’Neill Senators” T-shirts.
One of those eighth graders, Riley Lupella, 14, said last year’s preview helped him feel comfortable.
“I was nervous, but it was a cool experience,” Lupella said.
Principal Matt Durbala, in his 18th year at O’Neill, said the sneak preview “does so much to relieve the stress about changing schools, meeting new people, new teachers.”
About 30 children gathered in the classroom of Bobby Mueller, an eighth grade science teacher, to talk about O’Neill.
He handed out a quiz about the building.
Want to wow friends at your next backyard cookout? There is an elevator at O’Neill, but there is not a swimming pool in the basement.
Students asked Mueller about chewing gum. Yes, it is allowed.
Of course, they asked about cellphones. Also allowed, but in limited use. In other words, take a photo of your science experiment, but don’t spend classroom time gossiping with friends.
Ryan Clinton, 12, said he thought the sneak preview was a good idea after he successfully negotiated a locker.
“It will help me. I’ll learn the school. And I’ll learn the locker,” Clinton said with a smile.