Lending a helping hand

Incoming middle schoolers welcomed by seventh-, eighth-graders

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— The leap from elementary school to middle school isn't easy, particularly when rumors of bullies and loads of schoolwork run rampant through sixth-grade circles.

So when rising sixth-graders Sam Glaisher and Grant Murray walked through the front doors of Steamboat Springs Middle School on Friday, they weren't too sure what to expect.

What they found were dozens of seventh- and eighth-graders who welcomed them with smiles and led them to their new home away from home -- hall lockers.

Class doesn't begin until Monday, but Friday's first-ever middle school locker party, hosted by middle school peer helpers, did a lot to prepare the newcomers for the anxious days ahead.

The locker party was designed to help alleviate incoming sixth-graders' biggest fear, not being able to open their lockers on the first day of school.

"We thought we would take that anxiety and deal with it in a friendly, no-stress environment," said middle school counselor and peer helpers sponsor Margi Briggs-Casson.

Dozens of red T-shirt-clad seventh- and eighth-graders greeted sixth-graders at the school's front entrance and helped them find their new lockers and work the combinations. The help from older students was appreciated, sixth-graders said.

"They're a big help," Murray said. "The older kids watch out for you."

Peer helper Caterina Mader said she sympathizes with the younger kids and is happy to lend a helping hand.

"When I was starting off as a sixth-grader, it was really hard because we didn't have this locker party," Mader said. "We're there for support; we can help them when they're having problems."

The peer helpers program boasts 74 members, and it's positive effect is felt schoolwide, Principal Tim Bishop said.

"It's not only good for the younger kids, but it's good for the peer helpers because it allows them to feel ownership of the school," Bishop said. "They just think it's cool (to help) because they were the low ones on the totem pole last year."

The program has grown in popularity over the years as kids have seen the atmosphere it creates, Briggs-Casson said.

"I think all kids want to feel they're important and make a difference, and that's a wonderful community value to have," she said.

A similar peer helpers program at Steamboat Springs High School last week helped prepare incoming freshmen for their first days of high school.

Just one year removed from her freshman year at the high school, sophomore class president Kelly Labor remembers the nervous excitement of the first few days of school. Peer helpers, Labor said, help relax incoming freshmen and make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

"We're showing them the school as we know how it runs," said Labor, a member of the high school's leadership group. "We're showing them the school from our point of view, not a teacher's or principal's."

Members of the leadership group spent last weekend at Steamboat Lake preparing for Wednesday, when about 160 bright-eyed and restless freshmen poured through the school's front doors and into the next stage of their education.

A variety of activities aimed at helping freshmen feel welcome were paired with more administrative tasks such as picking up class schedules, having school photos taken and performing sight and hearing tests.

Freshmen learned the school song and their class chant. They also went through a mock schedule, during which each student gained a feel for the school's layout and where his or her classes are. Leadership group members acted as mock teachers in each classroom, answering questions students had before they moved on to their next scheduled class.

The day concluded with pizza and soft drinks and a dance for the newest high schoolers. Freshmen's parents attended an evening meeting where they were told how they could be more involved in their children's education and how to help their students succeed, among other things.

Freshman Bekah Hilterbrand said she was looking forward to the new high school schedule.

"I think it will be better because of the red days and white days," she said, referring to the daily class schedule system. "You have four classes a day instead of seven."

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