By Jim Newell
The first day in a new school can be daunting, especially when you’re a sixth grader heading to a big, new school.
But Oakview Middle School students want the new kids to know that their school is a place Where Everybody Belongs (WEB). On the first day of school, the eighth graders in the WEB classes lined up and cheered as the sixth graders entered the school.
This approach, having the eighth graders become leaders to help the younger kids acclimate and encourage a positive school environment, are the key principles of the program.
“It’s a mentorship program between the eighth graders and sixth graders. And it’s just our way of making sure that the sixth graders feel comfortable coming to middle school and feeling like they have a place here,” said teacher Laura Martin, who, along with Cindy Kaump, is the instructor for the 38 students in the two WEB classes.
The WEB students each work with a group of 10 sixth graders at the beginning of the year and then “touch base” with them throughout the year, Martin said. “Just to make sure they’re okay, to see if they have any questions, but we branch out to more than just those original 10 as well.”
The WEB students – who spent two days training before school began – also visit the sixth-grade classrooms on the weeks that the school doesn’t have the Bully Buster program. The fourth Wednesday of the month is designated as WEB Wednesday, where a pair of WEB students teach 30-minute lessons on such topics as asking good questions, social interactions and how students cannot take back words once they are spoken.
“What we typically do is talk to the sixth-grade teachers and find out what their need is,” Martin said. “We also have the Positivity Project here at Oakview and we try to tie those lessons in as well.
“It’s a great leadership program for the eighth graders to start learning leadership skills and a great program for the sixth graders as well,” said Superintendent Marion Ginopolis, who attended the WEB program classes on Oct. 10, saying she was impressed with Oakview’s inclusive approach.
Ella Spiers, Nick Nuss and Tyler Kominars are all eighth graders in the WEB classes.
“I like the people, they’re really nice. It’s just an all-around fun group to be with. It’s fun to be with the sixth graders and talk to them,” Ella said.
At first, the sixth graders didn’t quite know how to take it when the WEB students went into the classrooms.
“They just kind of looked at us and looked like they just wanted to sit there. But, after we started going into the lesson they liked it,” Ella said.
“WEB is a new program for eighth graders that was designed to help sixth graders feel comfortable and just do things positive for the school,” Nick said. “And you get a class to sort of bond with your peers.”
“What I’m most impressed with is the feedback from the sixth graders, who told me that what they enjoyed the most is having an eighth grader help them acclimate to the school, especially the first day of school,” Ginopolis said. “I kind of probed and they said things like, in addition to making them feel welcome, and they also learned character building, so it’s having an impact for sure.”
Throughout the year the WEB students work with the sixth graders on projects, plan activities and leave “little surprises” on their lockers.
“Just to get everybody involved and build that relationship between the eighth graders and sixth graders, because who knows more about middle school than these big eighth graders,” Martin said.
“It’s helping sixth graders transition into middle school and I enjoy it because we get to interact with the sixth graders and do games with them,” Tyler said. “I just enjoy being involved with stuff.”
They all said it’s important for the eighth graders to be role models for the younger students.
“The teaching part is cool because the sixth graders look at us like I’m a leader,” Ella said. “I think the sixth graders feel comfortable now, knowing that we’re there for them.”
The WEB students discuss a variety of topics with the sixth graders and feel it’s like a mentoring program.
“(We talk about) Stuff later in life and how to use things in the real world,” Nick said.
“And like, how what you do in middle school can affect what you do later on,” Tyler said.
It’s also empowering for the sixth graders, who open up a little more and talk to the eighth graders.
“They’ll say hi in the hall and wave,” Nick said. “Just getting to know more people in the school, I think, is really great.”
“I came to Oakview during seventh grade and I knew no one. I knew my neighbor and he introduced me to people and kind of took that leadership role and made me find my spot,” Tyler said. “One of them rides my bus and everyday we give each other a high-five and just sit down and talk. And that gives them someone to talk to.”
Nick said it is important for the eighth graders to assume a leadership role and be someone with whom the younger kids can talk. “I think it’s huge because sometimes kids don’t have someone to go to or talk to, and this kind of gives them a chance for that.”
“I really see a difference the way the sixth graders came to school this year versus last year. We had a couple really hesitant sixth graders that came in their first day of school. Not only was it their first day of middle school, it was their first day in our district and they were really hesitant,” Martin said. “You could slowly see their fear and hesitation disappear throughout the course of just those three hours.”
The eighth graders initially expected the WEB program to just be a “fun class, we’re going to be the leaders of the school!” Martin said.
“But you can see they get just as much enjoyment out of this as the sixth graders. So, it builds both of them up. People ask, ‘Doesn’t that leave seventh grade out?’ But it really doesn’t because the positive attitudes that we get from this boils over and reaches the seventh graders as well.”