By Diana Whittle
The growing nationwide program adopted at Kyrene middle schools says it all: We’re a place “Where Everyone Belongs.”
WEB, the acronym by which it’s known in schools across the country, is built on the belief that older students can help younger ones succeed in the transition from elementary to middle school.
It’s a way for selected eighth graders to act as mentors to incoming sixth-grade students.
The new mentors connect with their assigned sixth grader for the entire year to help build a strong positive relationship and to help the new kids overcome any adjustment issues to attendance in middle school.
The Kyrene Foundation provided an annual $5,000 Principal’s Grant, which was given to Jocelyn Sims, principal at Centennial Middle School. Simms chose to use the grant as seed money for teachers to be trained on how to start and implement WEB.
In the 2015-16 school year the WEB peer mentoring, transition and orientation program was introduced at Centennial.
When classes began, incoming sixth graders spent the first day with their eighth-grade mentors. They maintained their relationship with these mentors throughout the school year through informal interactions as well as formal activities.
Due to the positive reactions of students, teachers and parents, the Kyrene Foundation then applied for a Tempe Diablos grant to take the program to the other five Kyrene middle schools.
With continued support from the foundation, the Tempe Diablos have pledged $39,000 for the upcoming school year along with district funds to support expanding WEB to all middle schools in the district by the 2017-2018 school year, according to Nancy Dudenhoefer, assistant manager of Community Relations for the Kyrene District.
“In the fall, the WEB program will be launched at Kyrene, Aprende and Aikemel A-al middle schools for 2016-17,” said Dudenhoefer.
“And, in the last year of the three-year rollout out, it will be introduced at Pueblo and Altadeña.”
At Kyrene Middle School, the program’s facilitator is Nicole Woley, a sixth-grade math teacher, who was trained to be a WEB facilitator, along with Sarah Sottile, KMS dean of students.
“Academic studies show if students have a positive experience their first year in middle school, their chances for success increase dramatically,” said Sottile.
“WEB provides the structure for sixth graders to receive support and guidance from eighth graders who have been through the challenges that middle school poses and understand that the transition to a larger school can sometimes be overwhelming.”
When KMS resumes classes in the fall, each Wednesday, both the eighth-grade mentors and sixth graders will attend a class together, which will be considered an exploratory credit.
The sixth graders will experience at least eight positive contacts with WEB leaders during the first six weeks of school, which should contribute to overall school safety as well as help to create a sense of connection.
The KMS classes will include structured activities and lessons, according to Woley, who recently led the seventh graders selected as mentors in their first round of training—where they sprawled across the gym floor to complete an activity.
Working quietly and in randomly chosen groups, the diverse group of seventh graders in the training session appeared to be focused on the task at hand. Since they had to apply become mentors, the kids already demonstrated a strong desire to assist their fellow students.
WEB also will act as an anti-bullying program for KMS by providing it with a cadre of student leaders who look for bullying behavior and help stop it.
WEB gives older students permission to be aware of and report any negative behavior they see, creating a safer school for everybody.
But, the biggest benefit for students, who become involved in WEB, is learning that people at school care about them and their success says Dudenhoefer.
“The district sees great value in this initiative and appreciates the grant donations to implement it in all our middle schools.”