Where Everybody Belongs student leaders welcome sixth-graders

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Blendon Middle School eighth-grader Ava Bennett can relate to this year’s newest members of the Bulldog school family.

“I’m kinda nervous for the start of school, though not as nervous as I was in sixth grade,” she said. 

On Thursday, Bennett and other student leaders of Blendon’s Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program welcomed sixth-graders with cheers, an assembly, a school tour and activities to connect with their peers and ease their fears.

“Since they are all new to the school and middle school, we want them to all feel welcome and feel more comfortable in a whole new environment,” Bennett said. “We just want them to be themselves because they are new here.”

Thursday’s festivities offered a return to some normalcy for the WEB program, a year-long transition initiative to welcome sixth-graders to middle school. Last year’s welcome was virtual, with WEB leaders connecting with sixth-graders via live-streamed orientations.

The WEB program, which started at Blendon in 2017 before rolling out to the other middle schools the following year, hails from The Boomerang Project, a California-based educational consulting company that trains educators to facilitate peer mentorship at their schools using leadership and group development methodologies. The Westerville Education Challenge, which raises awareness and supports social-emotional learning initiatives in the district, provided funds to bring the WEB program to all middle schools. 

Each middle school has WEB coordinators who have been certified to run the program in their building. The coordinators train the eighth-grade WEB leaders over the summer, who are then assigned to a small group (as many as a dozen) of sixth graders they'll be paired up with all school year. 

WEB leaders provide support throughout the year, whether it’s giving campus tours to new students, tutoring those who are struggling academically or visiting classrooms to lead discussions on time management, teamwork and other life skills.

Eighth-grader Isaac Cofie signed up to become a WEB leader because he wanted to help make students feel like they belong at Blendon. 

“I’m pretty excited to help sixth-graders have a familiar surrounding to the school,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bennett saw serving as a WEB leader as an opportunity to help ease their transition to their new environment. 

“I want them to just be prepared and organized for everything so they can get used to it really quickly,” she said.