Lifestyle

Sixth-graders find a home in Kingston Middle School's WEB program

KINGSTON — Sixth grade student Audree Gormanson knows the change from Wolfle Elementary to Kingston Middle School will have its bumps. But with the help of some older students, she believes things will turn out all right.

“It’s going to be pretty hard, but it’s going to be fun,” Gormanson said.

For the past three years, Kingston Middle School has used a program called WEB (Where Everybody Belongs), in which incoming sixth-graders are matched with eighth grade volunteers to make the transition to middle school more bearable.

“They’ll be like mentors to help sixth-graders adjust to middle school life,” KMS Vice Principal Bill Breakey said of the volunteers.

On Tuesday, the day before classes began, KMS kicked off the school year with a WEB orientation for new students who wanted to get a jump-start on the transition.

“The purpose... is to take a lot of the fear out of coming into middle school,” said KMS guidance counselor and WEB organizer Doug Segur. “I think it’s made a really big impact in the school.”

The program, used in schools across the nation, has been a popular one since it came to Kingston in 2007, when Kingston Junior High became Kingston Middle School. About 200 of the school’s 250 sixth grade students came out for this year’s orientation. Last spring, dozens of seventh-graders filed applications to become eighth grade mentors in the fall. With more volunteers than it needed, the school whittled the group down to about 70 student leaders, who spent 12 hours over two days last week preparing for the incoming students.

“It’s good to meet new people,” said eighth-grade volunteer Virginia Paddock, who enjoys seeing the change in her young schoolmates’ faces as they begin to feel welcome. “First they’re nervous, then they’re not when they have the WEB people there.”

On orientation day, groups of eight to 10 sixth-graders were matched up with pairs of eighth-graders, who led tours and ice-breaking games with the newcomers. The morning’s activities were bookended by two pep rallies to help the new kids feel connected with the school.

“I think it’s very beneficial for them,” said Naomi Gormanson, Audree’s mother, whose son is also an eighth grade mentor. “It kind of puts them at ease for the first day.”

The WEB program doesn’t end with orientation, though. Throughout the school year, all sixth-graders — even the ones who do not participate in orientation — will periodically check in with eighth grade leaders, in both formal and informal meetings, to discuss how they are adjusting to life in their new school.

Sixth-graders can also request to spend extra time with their mentors if needed. The program ultimately culminates in a party at the end of the school year.

Besides helping new students feel more comfortable, Breakey said the program also reinforces a positive learning environment.

“The WEB program encourages empathy. When we understand each other to a higher degree, there’s lower instances of bullying,” he said. “You only have one time to start the school year. You just want it to be right for everybody.”

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