7/23/13 WELCOME TO MIDDLE SCHOOL
|Year-round students trade high-fives on first day|
Sixth-grader Jose Montoya, 11, is welcomed by eighth-graders with “Where Everyone Belongs” or WEB on the fi rst day of schoolMonday morning at Graham Middle School Monday.
WELCOME TO MIDDLE SCHOOL
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 7/23/13
Reprinted with permission.
GRAHAM — Eleven-year-old Jose Montoya followed the line of other new sixth-graders into a gauntlet of screaming, high-fiving, eighth-grade giants.
“I heard screaming, and I was like, ‘What’s that?’” Montoya said.
This is how Graham Middle School welcomes new students now. And most really seem to like it. Montoya screamed and high fived right back.
“That was cool,” Montoya said.
’Tis the season to head to the beach, but for Montoya and about 240 other freshly minted sixth-graders, Monday was the first day of middle school.
Alamance County has four year-round elementary schools, Eastlawn, Haw River, North Graham and South Graham, but Graham Middle School is the only year-round middle school in Alamance County. All together they add up to about 2,600 students in school from July to June this past school year.
Year-round schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System go from July 22 to the following June 5 with two-week breaks roughly every nine weeks, giving the year-round calendar roughly the same number of days as a traditional-calendar school.
Of course, the calendar is not the thing distinguishing Graham Middle School from the rest of the Alamance-Burlington system. There is the screaming and high fiving. This is part of a program called “Where Everybody Belongs,” or WEB, the middle school adopted four years ago.
The WEB program trains teachers, counselors and older students to help kids transition into middle school in their first year. The Boomerang Project created WEB and other well-regarded transition curriculum used in about 3,000 schools nationwide.
At Graham Middle School, the first ones to greet students were three WEB volunteers in bright orange T-shirts waving signs and cheering more loudly than seems possible as students roll up in the long car drop off line.
The middle school has about 20 of these eighth-grade volunteers. They took 12 hours of training over the summer in how to work with new middle schoolers, support teachers and run small-groups.
Davis said that not only helps sixth-graders meet and get guidance from older students, it lets the eighth grade volunteers develop leadership skills. High school guidance counselors want to know who those students are, Davis said, so they can help out with similar high school programs when they become high school upperclassmen.
Inside the new sixth-graders go through the high-five gauntlet and into the school gym while dance music pulses at an adult-repellent volume. Social studies teacher Jennifer Kinsman leads the program. She gets kids on their feet, “raising the roof” and whooping on cue and engaged in activities where they find themselves working together and learning the rules and expectations in middle school.
The WEB program started with Graham Middle School Counselor Kim Davis. Davis heard about WEB at a conference for school counselors and recruited Kinsman to get trained with her.
“Because what we had before was boring,” Davis said.
Davis was a student at Graham Middle School herself. When Davis returned to Graham Middle School seven years ago as counselor, it was on a traditional calendar. The middle school switched to year-round a year later. Davis said she dreaded the first day in late July that year, thinking the students would come in furious at the early start. She was surprised to see excitement on the students’ faces. It turns out middle school kids like school, she said.
While there is controversy about the academic benefits of year-round schools, Davis sees them in her students.
“Middle schoolers are so socially connected,” Davis said, which is a blessing and a curse since those relationships can bring good and bad influences. The breaks every couple of months gives students breathing space.
“They get a break from one another,” Davis said.
Principal Ronald Villines Jr. said the benefits are not overwhelming, but he remains enthusiastic about the year-round schedule, saying it does bring students back into the class room before they get a chance to forget too much of last year’s lessons, and says he believes there are steady, long-term benefits.
“There hasn’t been the impact that we hoped there would be,” Villines said. “Year-round has kept it constant instead of dipping.”