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Student mentors guide new classmates

August 27, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

SMITHSBURG - Before starting her first day of classes at Smithsburg Middle School, Lindsey Mowbray said she wasn't worried.

The sixth-grader already was equipped with some helpful tips for surviving middle school - like don't give out your locker combination - she had a large group of friends and she was given a tour of the school.

"I'm not going to get lost," the 11-year-old said. "I'm not worrying about school, because I know everything."

Lindsey was one of about 200 sixth-graders at Smithsburg Middle to participate in a mentor program with the school's eighth-graders.

The program, called Where Everybody Belongs, is one of two similar initiatives to help younger students transition into their new schools, according to Carol Costello, supervisor of alternative programs and student services for Washington County Public Schools.The Link Crew, at county high schools, will be a group of upperclassmen greeting incoming freshmen with information and insights into high school life, academics, activities and issues.

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"What a wonderful thing to come into school and feel as though you belong before school even starts," Costello said. "School is not the intimidating place it can be made out to be. It's a welcoming, inviting thing."

She said officials expect that test scores and achievement will improve as a result of more successful transitions. Attendance rates also should increase, Costello said.

This is the first year the programs have been used in Washington County.

Every middle school is participating, and every high school except South Hagerstown is involved, Costello said.

"We learned that middle school isn't so scary," Lindsey said.

Smithsburg Middle School Principal Michael Kuhaneck said that 44 eighth-graders at his school were selected to mentor younger students. The sixth-graders were divided into groups of eight to 10, and each group will have two mentors.

Smithsburg Middle School eighth-graders Breanna Sheaffer, 13; Lauren Todt, 13; and Justin Byram, 12, are mentors who said they are looking forward to helping sixth-graders.

Lauren said having some information about middle school before starting sixth grade would have helped her transition to a new school.

"It's really about a transition," Costello said. "Transitioning kids from one grade level to the next. Helping kids make that transition from elementary to middle and middle to high. We found that was a time when kids were just struggling."

Smithsburg Middle School sixth-grader Scott Morton, 11, said there are several things that he knew would be different than elementary school.

"No teacher walks you to class," he said.

After spending time with some of the school's eighth-graders, Scott and other students said they were no longer nervous.

Breanna said that throughout the school year she and other eighth-graders will contact the sixth-graders to schedule social events and other activities. The sixth-graders also may call their mentors with questions throughout the year.

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