FRASER — Oh, those awkward middle school years.
Going to a new school, trying to fit in, keeping up with your homework and worrying about your appearance can take a toll.
So, this year, the Richards Middle School staff in Fraser Public Schools has implemented WEB, which stands for “Where Everybody Belongs.” The school year begins Sept. 3.
The new program is designed to help the district’s incoming seventh-graders transition into middle school. The school is seventh- and eighth-grade. Each group of 10 seventh-graders will be mentored by two eighth-graders during the school year. Teachers chose the eighth-grade mentors, who underwent a training session earlier this month to prepare for the position.
Coordinator of Student Services Mary Thompson and 21st Century Literacy teacher Wendy Murray are the educators overseeing the program. Murray said the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention Support funds were used to bring in WEB.
WEB kicked off Aug. 21 during a seventh-grade orientation where the students could get acquainted. Nervous laughter filled the air when the students, their mentors and several staff members — including Thompson and Murray — gathered in the school gym.
After a welcome and brief activity, the new students were teamed up with their mentors, including mentors Easton Sikorski and Olivia Bryne, and each group went to a classroom.
With jitters on the part of the seventh-graders, Sikorski and Bryne had everyone grab a stool to form a circle. The mentors started a discussion by telling the others about their families, sports they play and if they had any pets.
Then, it was the seventh-graders’ turn to talk. One by one, each student — a few reluctant at first — introduced himself or herself. Then, it was time for the group’s first activity. Each student was given a straw. They had to hold it up by their index finger and connect with the student next to them without dropping the straw. Once the group was connected, they walked around in a circle. Taking baby steps, they stayed connected.
But it wasn’t over yet. They also had to kneel for a second and then they held their straws up in a “salute.”
Sikorski brought out two balls, one white and one blue. While passing the balls around, the students got to know each other’s names.
RMS Principal Jessica Carrier believes WEB is going to have a positive impact. The orientation was a chance for students to break the ice.
“We have six elementaries and Schools of Choice. This is the first time they are all together,” Carrier said. “We’re trying to break down those walls so they have a better understanding of where kids are coming from. Having them interact with the other kids relieves a lot of that anxiety.”
Middle school can be a rough time in a student’s life, she said.
“They’re becoming teenagers. They’re trying to figure out who they are,” Carrier said. “Kids are trying to find where they fit when they come to middle school.”
While the morning was set aside for getting-to-know-each-other activities, during the afternoon, the students received their class schedules, learned about school clubs and had their student photos taken.
Eighth-graders Griffin Yakey and Aidan Hasse were the greeters for the orientation. Both took their roles as mentors seriously.
“Mentors are people the seventh-graders look up to,” Yakey said. He wants to encourage the seventh-graders to say upbeat, even in negative situations. “If they have things they are struggling with, they can come to us and we will help them.”
Yakey said homework, not knowing where classes are and not being able to open lockers can be stressful for a seventh-grader.
“I want to be a mentor because I like helping people out. I think it’s nice,” Hasse said. “I wanted to make a change in the school. I noticed last year some of the kids were having trouble finding places on the first day. Lockers were a big thing.”
Another change was going from one class with one teacher to several classes with several teachers.
Yakey and Hasse both wish WEB had been there when they started seventh-grade last year.
“It would have made me feel more comfortable,” Hasse said.
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