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Incoming seventh-graders get rousing welcome to junior high

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MASSENA - As they stood in the hallway outside the J.W. Leary Junior High School gymnasium Thursday morning, little did the incoming seventh-grader students know what awaited them behind the door as part of their orientation.

Yellow-shirted WEB leaders from the eighth grade were standing in two lines with enough room for the seventh graders to pass through, ready to applaud them and give them high 5fives as they headed to their stations to retrieve their name tags.

WEB stands for “Where Everyone Belongs.” It’s a middle school orientation and transition program that welcomes students to their new school and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their middle school experience.

The program, like Massena High School’s Link Crew program, is part of the larger Boomerang Project, designed to transition students to new schools.

This is the first year the program has been offered at the junior high.

In preparation for Thursday’s orientation, WEB leaders - all volunteers - had gone through two five-hour training sessions on Monday and Tuesday. They’ll act as peer mentors to the younger students during the 2013-14 school year.

Teachers had recommended some of the students, and it was also opened up to other students in the school who had to apply to become a WEB leader. Approximately 35 were on hand Thursday to greet the incoming students.

“We met with these kids last spring. We spent about two or three hours with them,” giving the students an idea of what they could expect, Principal Jesse C. Coburn said.

It was something that piqued the interest of eighth-grader Alexa Drumm.

“I just know everyone is going to need leadership skills throughout life. This is a nice place to start,” Ms. Drumm said as she waited for the seventh graders to enter the gym.

Her job was to direct them from the name tag stations to the bleachers for a morning of team-building and getting-to-know-you exercises, followed by a lunchtime barbecue.

Mr. Coburn said it’s the first year they have offered the WEB program after the success of the Link Crew program during its 2012-13 inaugural year at the high school. The WEB program directors at the junior high are Keri Cooke-Fent and Christine Sweet, and they were on hand Thursday along with other staff members who had volunteered their time.

“It was a great success last year. The whole idea is to get back what you give,” Mr. Coburn said.

Thursday’s middle school orientation was just step one in the program. There will also be academic and social follow-ups during the year, along with leader-initiated contacts when the WEB leaders will connect with the new students on a more individual basis.

“It’ll go through the year. We’ll have a couple of organized events,” Mr. Coburn said.

While all the students had an opportunity to meet each other on Thursday, he said they would be organizing teams that would match WEB leaders with the approximately 213 incoming seventh graders. Mr. Coburn said they’ve already reviewed the sixth-grade roster to find out about the students and will link them up to the mentor that would best meet their needs.

Ms. Drumm said she’ll have some words of wisdom for the students she’ll be mentoring to make their junior high experience easier.

“Like pre-setting your locker and bringing more than one book to your class,” she said.

Ms. Cooke-Fent told the former sixth graders that even though they were in a new building among many new faces there was nothing to be nervous about.

“Were you nervous as a sixth grader at your old school? You weren’t nervous because you had been there a long time. You knew in order to be successful and get to the next grade, you had to do your homework. If you didn’t know something, you knew who to ask. There is so much you already know that you carry into seventh grade,” she said.

“Maybe you don’t know a soul (in junior high). By the end of the day you will. Maybe you don’t know your schedule. By the end of the day you will,” Ms. Cooke-Fent said. “This is going to be an awesome year because you’re going to use stuff you already know.”

She pointed out students could be successful with the help of the yellow-shirted mentors who sat in the bleachers with them.

“These are eighth graders in the building. They have literally given up three days of their summer (for training and orientation). They want you to feel welcome, they want you to be successful, they want you to feel safe,” she said. “I want the seventh-graders to know they are awesome and they’re here to help you.”

Thursday’s activities included a welcome assembly with several activities in the gymnasium, followed by WEB leaders and their teams moving to assigned classrooms for activity work and tours. The students later returned to the gym for a closing assembly, then received their schedules and enjoyed a barbecue.

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