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Kingston Middle: Where Everybody Belongs

KINGSTON — Being the new kid on the block — at the bottom of the class totem pole — can be awfully scary.

Throw in first-day jitters and attending a brand new school with potentially threatening seventh- and eighth-graders, and it’s a wonder sixth-grade students will make it out the door or off the bus on Sept. 3.

But entering the doors of middle school for the first time doesn’t have to be traumatic. In fact, at Kingston Middle, the first day of sixth grade is filled with familiarity and friendly faces because of the implementation of the Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) orientation program.

WEB is a national middle school transition mentoring program, in which eighth-grade students welcome the new incoming students before school even starts, and guide and mentor them throughout the year.

“Before school even starts, the new kids are met by the older kids who show them around. It takes the stress out of coming to school. When they walk in they’ve already had a really positive experience with the kids,” said KMS counselor and WEB coordinator Doug Segur. Tawnee Weisgarber, Toby Kemper and Su-A Kim are also WEB coordinators.

This year marks the second year of WEB at KMS. The process and results are truly remarkable.

It all begins with an application, as KMS rising eighth-graders — on their own gumption — apply to be a WEB leader. Of the approximate 220 KMS eighth-graders, 85 applied, and Segur said it’s similar to a sports tryout. The eighth-grade applicants must demonstrate responsibility, sound leadership skills and the ability to be a role model. Teacher recommendations and disciplinary history are also taken into account.

“We’re looking for kids who are able to work and step up to the plate and do well in terms of leading kids and being a role model,” Segur said.

Of the 85 applicants 70 went through 10 hours of WEB training on Wednesday and Thursday. During training the WEB leaders discussed the psychological reasons behind the program, and were taught various games and activities to do with the sixth-graders.

On Sept. 2, the day before the school bell rings in another year, the eighth-graders arrive at KMS at 8 a.m. to meet and greet the sixth-grade students. Two eighth-graders will be placed with a group of eight sixth-graders. They’ll tour the school, show the sixth-graders their classrooms and have fun with the activities they learned in training.

“The thing I love about it is, it starts in such a non-threatening way,” Segur said. “Each activity we do pushes their (sixth-graders) comfort zone a little bit, but not so they’re uncomfortable. It takes away some of the fear and trepidation.”

The day amounts to four hours of relationship building, but it’s not just a one day happening, it’s an entire school year process.

Throughout the course of the year the eighth-graders reconvene with their sixth-grade groups for academic follow-ups, where the eighth-graders lead “mini lessons” on how to be successful in school, how to get involved and how to build one another up, not down. There’s also social follow-ups, lunches or ice cream parties.

Segur said the dominant theme of feedback from the WEB program’s first year was an ease in angst about coming to school.

“What we heard so strongly from the sixth-grade kids was, ‘Boy I was afraid of coming to school, but now I’m ready,’” he said. “There’s a bulletin board up in the entryway with the WEB leaders pictures on it and when the sixth-graders would walk by they said, ‘Oh look I want to show you my WEB leader. There’s my WEB leader.’”

Feedback from both groups also centered on wanting to spend more time with each other. Therefore, the WEB coordinators are planning to tweak the program so the groups get together at least once a month and have more social activities.

“When you’ve got the leaders saying, ‘Hey, I want to spend more time with these kids,’ that does a lot to change the school environment,” Segur said. “It’s teaching kids caring behavior and not teasing behavior that can be so destructive at this age.”

To learn more about the WEB program visit, www.boomerangproject.com/web.

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