The first day in a new school can be tough, especially if it’s your first day of Junior High. We all know this involves losing recess, moving to different classrooms every period, and facing the 8th graders.
Well, a Helena middle school trying to ease that transition for new students and teachers are using those supposedly-terrifying 8th graders as their primary weapon to do it.
The flock of freshly-minted 6th graders collecting behind Helena’s C.R. Anderson Middle School doesn’t seem to know what to think. Many look giddy chatting with friends. Others are fidgety. 11-year-old Molly Woodward admits she’s nervous.
“A little bit,” Woodward said. “I just, I’m not used to being around a whole bunch of people.”
A short flight of concrete stairs leads up to the school’s back door. Standing there like guards of the citadel are some 8th Graders.
“That’s the fear factor is the 8th grader,” said math teacher, Bob Tipton.
All the 8th graders are wearing matching black and tie-dye shirts like some kind of street gang.
“Hey, listen up!” one of them shouts.
Wait, the teachers are wearing the tie-dye shirts too.
“Welcome to CR Anderson!” the 8th graders say.
“Are you ready to have some fun?!” yells one of the teachers.
With that, the back doors open into the gym. About a hundred 8th graders are forming a tunnel. Everyone is clapping and cheering.
And the 6th graders outside, now at the end of their Summer vacation, these 6th graders start clambering over each other to get into the school, through the tunnel of upper classmen.
8th grader Kaysen Spencer was one of the citadel guards. He remembers how he felt his first day here.
“It is really scary to come to a new, big school like this and not really have any idea,” he said. “So this is just to get them in the flow of it.”
C.R. Anderson started this welcome day about ten years ago. The 6th graders take seats in rows of folding chairs after exiting the tunnel. 8th graders are sitting in amongst them leading the wave and stuff.
C.R. Anderson staff chooses 8th graders for the day who demonstrate leadership. They lead the 6th graders through the whole morning assembly in the gym. Everyone splits up in the afternoon. A couple 8th graders will take maybe ten 6th graders and just show ‘em around and help them acclimate. Here’s Kaysen Spencer again.
“It gets them to know that I’ll be ok here, that I’ll turn out just fine,” Spencer said.
A lot of the bigger schools in Montana are starting to use transition programs like this for their new students. Math teacher Bob Tipton says sure, it helps the 6th graders feel less intimidated. And he says, you know, it’s great for the 8th graders too.
“Then they look at these kids a lot differently then they probably did 30 years ago where it was like ‘Here’s the guys we may be able to pick on. Now, it’s the guys–‘We’re gonna help these guys,'” Tipton said.
To teach these 8th graders they can be role models, rather than bullies, when school starts in earnest the next day. Tipton says the benefits can last all year.
“They’re giving me all high fives and I feel so cool,” said Molly Woodward, our nervous 6th grader, after just having finished moving through the tunnel.
“All my life, I’ve been dreaming to be a rock star and now it makes me feel that I am one,” she said.
Maybe this big bad school and those big bad 8th graders aren’t so scary after all.