Welcoming sixth graders with WEB Program develops student leaders and helps ease the transition to middle school
Making community happen at a school-size scale is no easy task. You need coordinated effort from staff, students and administration, plus a vision that’s compelling enough to catch fire. And that’s exactly what District 191 Middle School leaders believe can happen with the Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program.
WEB is a student-led program where 8th-grade leaders help to welcome, orient and nurture incoming sixth-grade students.
“The program is incredible because it’s already designed — there’s so much less pressure on someone like me to figure out how to make students comfortable,” said Molly Moran, WEB program coordinator and 7th-grade literary arts teacher at Eagle Ridge Middle School. “The great thing is that our incoming 6th graders will have many other students building that sense of belonging for them, not just individual teachers.”
Seventh-grade students apply to become WEB leaders in the spring, and those selected receive ongoing training — learning games and group leadership skills over the spring and summer — as they help mentor younger students at both Eagle Ridge and Nicollet Middle Schools, respectively.
To start each school year, middle schools host a welcome day where only sixth-grade students can attend. Student leaders, with the help of staff WEB coordinators, will facilitate games and activities to help build community and create relationships. Two 8th graders are assigned to each group of 10.
“We’ll start with a whole-group session with some silly ice breakers, but then our student leaders will run a two-hour session with ‘get to know you’ activities,” Moran said. “Every step of the way, there’s a little bit more risk, and then by the end of the day they’ve learned a lot about each other and are becoming friends.”
As the school year rolls on, each student leader team will maintain contact with their group, hosting activities, joining sixth-grade lunch or popping into advisory.
“The hope is that our student leaders will be doing some WEB lessons in sixth-grade advisory, so we’ll be training them on how to deliver these as well,” said Monique Funches, WEB teacher and eighth grade math teacher at Nicollet Middle School.
More than anything, WEB is an opportunity to provide the kind of support that sets each grade level up for success.
“A huge part of the transition from fifth to sixth grade is knowing you have people on your side,” Funches said. “The common concerns that most incoming students have will be figured out — ’Where will I sit at lunch?’ and ‘What if I get lost?’
“The WEB leaders will help answer these questions to take some of the worry off of their plate.”