Building community 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. That’s exactly the environment District 191 middle school leaders created with the Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program.
This fall, Eagle Ridge and Nicollet middle schools launched WEB, a student-led program where eighth-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 seventh-grade literary arts teacher at Eagle Ridge. “The great thing is that our incoming sixth 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 each spring. Those selected received ongoing training, learning games and group leadership skills over the spring and summer.
While the current school year faced many obstacles due to the pandemic, creating a welcome environment for new middle school students remained a priority. Student leaders, with the help of staff WEB coordinators, facilitated virtual games and activities to help build community and create relationships to kick off the new year.
“We started a whole-group session with a video, but then our student leaders ran ‘get to know you’ activities,” Moran said. “The 8th graders had those ‘Oh no... what am I going to do’ moments when technology didn't quite work right, or the 6th graders didn't respond right away. I truly believe that giving them the opportunity to make those split second decisions strengthened them as people and leaders. If we don't give kids the opportunity to try, make mistakes, and try again, they can't develop into the independent and confident people we want them to be.”
As the school year rolled on, each student leader team maintained contact with their group, hosting activities.
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,” said Monique Funches, WEB teacher and eighth grade math teacher at Nicollet Middle School. “The common concerns that most incoming students have will be figured out. The WEB leaders will help answer these questions to take some of the worry off of their plate.”