All of a sudden, they move from a smaller building, where they know most if not all of their peers and typically have one teacher for the majority of their subjects, to a much bigger campus with a larger student body and a slate of new teachers.
Everything is different and the security and comfort level they had in the more intimate elementary school setting is gone.
Adapting to the changes and acquiring a sense of belonging in this new arena takes time.
To help students with this process, junior highs in Northshore are using WEB, Where Every Student Belongs.
“It’s a national program designed to transition students to junior high or middle school,” explains Obadiah Dunham, principal at Leota. “We chose it because we were looking for a more comprehensive transition program for our seventh graders. All the middle level schools I have worked in have had the WEB program, so I knew how effective it was.” He adds, “It is important to have a clear transition plan for students as they change school levels.
“In the past Leota has had a very effective orientation program for the first day of school. However, the WEB program is more comprehensive because it extends past the first day of school.”
WEB has been in existence for 16 years and to date, over 1,000 schools in 33 states have implemented the program.
Built on the belief that students can help students succeed, the program trains upper level mentors from the school to be WEB leaders.
These individuals serve as role models who assist and facilitate the younger students’ success.
They also take the lead in creating a caring and positive school climate.
The program provides the structure for the younger students to receive support and guidance from the leaders who have all been through the challenges that middle school and junior high present and understand that the changes can sometimes be overwhelming.
More and more studies show that if students have a positive experience their first year in middle school or junior high, their chances of success increase dramatically.
“The more connected and engaged they are, the more successful their education experience will be,” comments Ryan Adams, math teacher at Leota and co-coordinator of the school’s WEB program.
“If they feel a part of the school, they will be more successful learners.” He adds, “The program has also shown that disciplinary problems decrease, as well as absenteeism.”
Adams notes that through WEB, students learn that people at school care about them and their success.
Resources will always be available to them as they confront new challenges, and they won’t be alone in the process.
At Leota, there are 52 WEB leaders, all ninth graders who were selected based on several criteria.
“We had 80 applications,” says Adams. “Each student had to complete a one-page write up explaining why they wanted to be a WEB leader and then they also had to create a one minute teaching video. They could teach anything they wanted, but the idea was to show that they could use clear instructions, be engaging and display a positive attitude.”
Adams adds that those chosen represent a cross-section of Leota’s students, adding, “We wanted to get kids from different backgrounds and not just those involved in ASB.”
The leaders underwent training in June and in August in order to prepare for their roles.
Everything starts on the first day of school when seventh graders and WEB leaders are the only students present. There’s an assembly followed by small group sessions with activities to break the ice and explain the essence of the school’s culture and code of behavior.
The leaders help the younger students set goals with each other and begin the all-important connection process.
“The messages presented come from the older students, which makes these messages more powerful,” says Adams. “The other thing that’s important is that by the end of that first day, each student has at least two new friends — his/her small group pair of WEB leaders.”
During the school year, WEB-related activities occur on a monthly basis, alternating between a social/recreation activity and an individual contact.
The latter involves one-to- one contact between WEB leaders and students in their group.
“The idea is for the leaders to initiate contact with individual students and check in with them to see how they’re doing,” explains Adams. “It’s a good way for them to touch base on a personal level and show support for the student.”
Though this is Leota’s first year using WEB, Adams has already seen its effects.
He notes that from the first day, he observed difference in his seventh grade kids.
He says, “In the past, it would usually take several weeks for them to feel comfortable in their new surroundings, but I could see that they were much more at ease this year. They were willing to engage more with each other in class and working in groups was much easier for them from the beginning. I sensed that they felt more comfortable all around.” He adds, “It’s great when you can start out this way because the sooner kids feel connected with their school, the more interested and motivated they will be in their success.”