Azalea teacher Jason Fulton, right, leads student WEB leaders in an exercise designed to help new students.
Virginia Grosz understands how scary coming to a new school is.
The eighth grader moved to Brookings with her family in the middle of her sixth grade year and didn’t know anyone.
Oregon was colder than warm, sunny San Diego from where she had moved and she felt out of place as she bundled up, not used to the weather.
“It was weird. I dressed a little different and it was hard to make friends,” she said.
This year, she has the opportunity to help other students make the transition.
Grosz and about 30 of her fellow eighth graders spent two days this week preparing to be leaders for the Azalea Middle School’s Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) program.
The program, which tries to make new students feel more welcome on their first day of school, is led by eighth graders who are trained to do activities designed to help new kids fit in and deal with first-day jitters.
Besides this year’s incoming sixth grade class, the middle school is also expecting 30 new seventh and eighth graders.
“We try to welcome them in,” said Jason Fulton, teacher at Azalea and counselor for the WEB program. “They will know some the students from years past, but they are still nervous.”
Fulton said the program hopes to cut down on bullying of new students and is a nice way to welcome students to middle school.
“Especially for people who move to the district from somewhere else, WEB is helpful,” said Averi Carroll, an eighth grader and WEB leader.
Grosz hopes to be a good WEB leader and not just go through the motions. She says she will learn the names of those in her group, interact with them and be there for them when she needs to be.
“I want to make people realize middle school might not be as bad as they think,” Grosz said.
Other students said the success of the program depends on the student leaders. Some recounted how their leaders did not seem excited to be there or did not make them feel very welcome. Others said the program had made them feel welcome and helped them integrate into the school better.
“It gives you some people you know on the the first day and it gives you some people to talk to,” said Emma Leonard, an eighth grader and WEB leader.
The student-run program teams two eighth graders with a group of new students. The hope is that, if new students know at least two students, they will have someone to connect with during the first few weeks.
During the first day of school, there is an assembly to welcome students. The WEB leaders then do a variety of team building and getting-to-know you exercises with the new students. The sixth grade students then spend the afternoon with their teachers, getting settled into their new school.
The leaders participated in two days of training, for a total of about 10 hours, to prepare for the first day of school.
Even though they are giving up a little bit of the final moments of their summer vacation, the student leaders seemed enthusiastic about being a part of WEB.
“When I was in sixth grade, my WEB leaders made me feel welcome,” said Jacob Gallego, an eighth grade WEB leader. “I had just moved from Texas. I didn’t know anyone at all and (my WEB leaders) were my first friends.”