By Elise Franco
Entering middle school at the bottom of the totem pole can be rough, which is why eighth-grade students are taking their younger counterparts under their wings and offering guidance.
Expansion of an orientation program implemented last school year at Austintown Middle School will allow a group of about 50 eighth-grade students to mentor the incoming sixth-grade class, said Assistant Principal Dave Mullane.
Mullane said this school year, which began Tuesday, the older students will plan activities with the new students that will take place throughout the year.
“We’re phasing in some mentor-like activities,” he said. “We’re doing this to try and build our own transitional program.”
Heidi Martin, AMS guidance counselor, said the program is designed to help ease the incoming sixth-graders into a larger school that functions much differently from an elementary school setting.
“It helps them build relationships with older students and makes them feel more comfortable here,” she said. “This is like a mini high school, and they have to learn more independence.”
Mullane said middle school is often the roughest time for preteens and-young teenagers, so any type of support is important.
“They become really dependent on social relationships, and sixth-grade seems to be the most pivotal year in development,” he said. “This program shows the younger students that the [older students] aren’t so scary.”
He said the mentoring program also helped the eighth-graders develop a sense of pride in themselves and in their school. Each of the mentors was nominated by an AMS staff member.
“The leadership is good for them,” he said.
Cameron Godwin, an eighth-grade mentor, said he understands why the younger students might be hesitant to interact with older kids but wants them to know that the support is there.
“I thought the eighth-graders were scary too, but they helped me go through the pain of being in a new school,” he said. “It’s our time, now, to do that for the younger kids.”
Marquis Barbel, a mentor, said the group has some activities planned, such as tutoring and a game or movie night.
“We’ll do tutoring with anything they need, even give [emotional support,]” he said.
Maddie Everhart, another mentor, said their goal is to make the sixth-grade class feel welcome.
“We want to make them feel comfortable, like they’re a part of our school,” she said.