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Making 6th Graders Feel Connected

Bexley’s school community has been preparing all year long for the time when sixth graders join Bexley Middle School in fall 2017. Principal Jason Caudill has worked regularly with a committee of parents, teachers and administrators who have provided insight and guidance about all aspects of the transition.

Sarah Goodenow will take on duties as the middle school’s second school counselor, moving from her current position at Cassingham Elementary. “Sarah stood out to us for her combination of experience using data to design supports for students, her experience with younger students, and her calm approach to stressful situations,” said Mr. Caudill who, along with the committee interviewed five candidates for the position. “Ultimately, we felt that she was the best fit for our school.”

And after reviewing the responses of 377 community members – representing grades K – 12 -- who responded to a survey about the school’s lunch practices, the advisory group recommended that BMS close lunch. Beginning this fall, the school will require middle schoolers to sign out in order to leave campus for lunch. Students going into eighth grade will retain privileges for “open lunch” for one school year, as a part of the transition.  

Recognizing that the social and emotional needs of the incoming sixth graders will be unique and require a new approach, the school enlisted a highly regarded program called WEB (“Where Everybody Belongs”), offered by The Boomerang Project.

The WEB middle school orientation and transition program welcomes sixth and seventh graders, making them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their middle school experience and helping establish meaningful relationships, according to Tara Louys, BMS school counselor. She and Mr. Caudill began discussing the WEB program last year and then conferred with a middle school in the Olentangy district that had implemented the program. The two, along with BMS teacher leader Nate Maier, wrote a school climate grant that is supporting the project.

“Eighth grade WEB mentor leaders are key to making the program work,” said Ms. Louys. “They will assist with the new sixth grade orientation day, and just help make it an easy transition all around.”  Ms. Louys and Ms. Goodenow received training in early February to become WEB Coordinators so that they can select and train the eighth grade student leaders for the program. Some of the ways that WEB “lives” at BMS during the year are listed at boomerangproject.com:

• Academic Follow Ups in the classroom: WEB Leaders visit sixth grade classes to teach lessons on topics such as cooperation, creativity, and positive attitudes.

• Social Follow Ups are school sponsored group activities that bring sixth graders and WEB leaders together for fun events like group lunches, field days, or movie afternoons.

• Leader Initiated Follow Ups happen outside the classroom on a one-to-one basis and can be as simple as WEB Leaders saying “hi” to their sixth graders in the hallways or calling them at home to check in and see how they are doing; more involved Leader Initiated Follow Ups include WEB Leaders spending time tutoring their sixth graders or doing something special for their birthdays.

The program gives sixth graders at least eight positive contacts with WEB Leaders during the first six weeks of school, contributing to overall school safety and helping the younger students create a sense of connection to their new school.