Orientation eases kids' first-day jitters

Lacey TodaySeptember 5, 2007 

A new school year starts today, and for 1,070 incoming seventh-graders, it's a big transition.

We all remember the butterflies: Walking into the cafeteria and scanning anxiously for a familiar face. Worrying about getting lost in the maze of hallways. Keeping track of multiple teachers and binders and homework assignments.

Nisqually Middle School hoped to ease the first-day jitters with an orientation last week.

About 225 incoming seventh-graders were greeted by a flood of energetic eighth-graders eager to make them feel at home.

Last week was the school's annual orientation - called WEB, or Where Everybody Belongs - part of a national program that includes lots of getting-to-know-you and team-building games.

"When they come on the first day, they know names, faces," said Nisqually counselor Jim McGibbon. "It gets that connection going early, so kids feel like they belong here."

First-day anxieties

The seventh-graders were on the quiet side last week, migrating toward familiar faces from their elementary school.

Eighth-grader Kiani Tarape, one of the WEB leaders who helped facilitate the day's activities, remembered worrying about making friends.

"I didn't think I was going to know anybody. I didn't know if people were going to judge me or not. Some of your friends are moving, and you're not going to see them anymore," she said.

Her tip to incoming seventh-graders: "You'll make new friends ... Just be yourself."

The seventh-graders listed several things they were nervous about.

Jasmyn Roundtree, 12, was less worried about making friends than getting lost in such a big school.

Miracle Yando, 12, agreed, wondering if there would be enough time to get from one class to another.

Tyler Myer, 12, said he mostly was looking forward to the coming year and the extra freedoms he'd have in middle school.

"I'm feeling really excited. I'm going to be in middle school, finally," he said. "I'm excited to change classes. In elementary school, we were normally in one class."

What to expect

Counselors say the transition from elementary to middle school can be stressful.

Having several teachers can be daunting, as can keeping homework organized for each class. Some kids have trouble adjusting to the heavier workload, Nisqually counselor Renee Bert said.

"Honestly, one of the toughest parts is lunch, because they're afraid they're going to go to lunch and not have anybody to eat with. After the first day, the anxiety goes away," she said.

She said middle school can be a difficult time for parents as well, as their teens are going through a lot of changes, physically and developmentally.

They start pulling away from their parents and spending more time with friends.

"They're trying to figure out their place in the group," McGibbon said.

Although middle-schoolers can seem aloof, McGibbon said, one of the biggest complaints he hears from students is "my parents don't love me anymore because they're not involved in my life."

It can be a tricky balance, staying interested and involved without pushing your child away. But parent involvement is critical to teenagers' success in school and life, the counselors said.

"They may not talk much, they may not share a lot at times during their adolescence," Bert said. "The bottom line is, the kids still need them just as much as last year."

Diane Huber covers the city of Lacey and its urban growth area for Lacey Today. She can be reached at 360-357-0204 or dhuber@theolympian.com.

Moving up

What parents can do to help with the transition to middle school:

n Provide a quiet place where your middle schooler can do homework and set a regular homework time each day

n Help your kids with time management and organizing their binders and homework

n Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep

n Encourage your kids to get involved in extracurricular activities

n Ask your kids about their day, encourage them and stay involved, even if they seem like they are pulling away

n Keep up with their assignments with the district's Family Access program, which allows parents to check their child's attendance records and grades on the school's Web site. See www.nthurston.k12.wa.us. Also watch for biweekly progress reports in the mail.

n Call your school's counselors if you have parenting questions or concerns

Source: North Thurston Public Schools middle school counselors

Resources: www.parent-institute.com

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