Perhaps the biggest transition a student will make - other than moving away from home for college - is the move from elementary to middle school. A large building filled with hundreds of pre-teens and teens can be intimidating for new students. But the staff at Webster City Middle School said that those first anxieties and concerns are often gone just a few days after school starts.
New middle school students took part in an orientation session Thursday night and school officials said the event is a good way to introduce the students to the school and staff. Young people transferring in from St. Thomas, Stratford Community School and others who are new to the district were invited to the session.
"That's a big thing - knowing where you're going," said guidance counselor Sondra Dyer.
New students at the Webster City Middle School and their parents had a chance to tour the building with eigth graders as their guides Thursday night.
The layout of the building is a huge concern for new students and parents, Dyer said. Knowing how to get to their classrooms, restrooms and the lunch area are all of great importance to the new middle schoolers.
"But the number one concern students seem to have is with their locker," Dyer said. Opening the combination lock can be troublesome for those encountering the device for the first time.
"For a while we sent locks down to the fourth grade so the kids could practice opening them," she said.
Being accepted is another concern, she said. "'Will I have friends? Will I be accepted by my peers?'"
"We do a lot of work to try to get kids involved and get kids acquainted. We want to help them help kids fit in and work together," she said
"There are so many new kids for so many different reasons that they don't know where everybody's coming from. We don't think of them as a Stratford kid or a St. Thomas child. They're just all our kids," Dyer said.
Principal Becky Hacker-Kluver said there's no shortage in veteran students who want to be buddies to the newbies.
"Everybody wants to be a new student's friend. We never have any trouble buddying somebody up. The kids are so accepting, and that's why there's always three or four willing to help the new person get to the right classroom," she said. "They all just kind of mix together and become part of our school family."
Associate Principal Duane Harding said in the spring each year, fourth graders from Sunset Heights spend some time at the middle school, have tours and visit with older students.
"Then it's not this big scary thing when school starts," he said. For students who register late or are new to the community, Harding said the administration does a good job of getting the student acquainted with the building and answering questions and addressing concerns.
Another big change is the process of moving to different classrooms for different subjects. But for the fifth and sixth grade students, there's safety in numbers.
"The fifth and sixth graders all travel as a class so that nobody gets lost," said Hacker-Kluver. "We've never lost a student yet."
She said that each grade level has its own hallway, classrooms and restrooms.
"So the kids really only see their own grade level," she said.
"They don't share classes or lunch with the other grade levels," Dyer said.
Getting involved in activities is another way for students to make friends, Harding said. Next week, Harding, who also serves as activities director, said he would be visiting the classes to tell students about fall sports programs and other extra curricular activities.
"As activities director, I try to take take a lot of the anxiety away from the kids," he said. Harding said he wanted parents to know should be little expense for students to take part in activities. Being involved in the fall sports programs, student only need a sports physical and a pair of athletic shoes, he said. And when a child's family can't afford the shoes, Harding said the school often steps in to help.
Harding also said he talks to the sports teams to stress the importance of good sportsmanship and acceptance of all involved. Those concepts fall right in line with the Character Counts principles that the school follows.
Choices and Challenges is an after school program that offers a variety of activities ranging from sports events to crafts and field trips.
"The program is for everyone, but mostly the fifth and sixth graders take part," Hacker-Kluver said. The program is scheduled to start in early September.
Parents can help their children with the transition to middle school, Dyer said.
"Support your child without verbalizing your own fears. Be positive and be realistic," she said. "And be a problem solver with the child when the little problems arise."
Dyer also encouraged parents to ask the children about their day.
"Sometimes, kids save all the woes of the day for the parents. But try to balance that by asking for some of the positive things that happened during the day," she said.
Hacker-Kluver also urged parents to make sure students get plenty of sleep, have a good breakfast either at home or at the school, and to be on time.
"Students start heading to classes at about 8 a.m., but our building is open by 6:30 a.m. and we have different 'coffee clubs' that start early, you know, just conversing. And school gets over at 3:20 and a lot of the kids hang out for a while," she said.
Hacker-Kluver, Harding and Dyer all agreed that it was important for parents to call the middle school if they have any questions or concerns.
"We're kind of like a big family here," Dyer said.
"Whatever it takes to help the child feel safe, secure and ready to go, that's our goal," Hacker-Kluver said.