Navigating adolescence is hard enough without also feeling disconnected and confused in a new school amid a sea of unfamiliar faces and experiences.
That reality for many students as they enter middle school is the motivation behind Indian Trail Middle School’s new “PAWS Pack” peer mentoring program.
The PAWS – Positively Affecting Wildcat Success – Pack is modeled on a similar high school peer mentoring program in which older students help freshmen. Indian Trail is the first of District 202’s seven middle schools to implement such an initiative.
About 60 eighth-graders will befriend, support and mentor groups of sixth-graders throughout the school year. The PAWS Pack mentors met their mentees for the first time at a special “Welcome to Middle School” event on Aug. 8, a week before the first day of school.
“They will do small group activities together, both social and academic, in the classroom and out of the classroom,” said Indian Trail Middle School Assistant Principal and PAWS architect Jennifer Archer.
Seventh-grade teachers last year nominated students to the PAWS program based primarily on their leadership and social skills in the classroom, Archer said.
Although academic success was also a criteria, it was not Archer’s top priority for the PAWS program.
“It’s easy to pick the star students (based on grades),” Archer said, “but PAWS is not about how well you can read and compute. We wanted kids who, when someone comes through the doors, can support other students.”
As a result, this first year’s crop of PAWS mentors includes students of all kinds including special education students. “Having the opportunity to be a mentor will help some students come out of their shells, too,” Archer said.
At the special “Welcome to Middle School” event, PAWS Pack members sporting bright orange t-shirts formed a tunnel through which the new sixth graders entered the gym, slapping high fives along the way.
Archer and other school staff greeted the new middle schoolers and led the students through several large “icebreakers” to get acquainted.
The eighth-grade mentors then led their assigned groups of sixth grade charges off to classrooms to take part in more activities to help them feel comfortable in their new school home.
The PAWS Pack will also help build school community – a natural priority at the district’s smallest and oldest middle school. “That’s what makes our school so special,” Archer said.