Even online, WEB still helping sixth-graders

CSD program pairs eighth-graders with new students to alleviate worries

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Liberty Middle School students gather at their lockers during the Camas School District's 2017-18 school year. (Post-Record file photo)

School may be remote right now, but the stress of transitioning from elementary school to middle school still exists.

“Their worries have changed a little bit,” Liberty Middle School counselor Emily Fitch said of sixth-graders coming into middle school during a pandemic that has forced the majority of Camas students to attend school online.

The students obviously don’t have to worry about finding their classes in a new building, remembering their locker combination or having someone to sit with at lunch, “but some things are still the same,” Fitch said.

“They worry about navigating between multiple teachers, doing things wrong, missing class or being late to class,” she said.

That’s why Fitch and other Camas School District middle school counselors spent the summer months bringing the district’s WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) Club — which pairs incoming sixth-graders with eighth-grade mentors to help ease their transition into middle school — into the remote-learning world.

“All three middle schools (in Camas) have WEB,” Fitch said. “It’s a wonderful program. We love it.”

Normally, the eighth-grade WEB leaders would physically guide their sixth-graders through the building, and meet with their small groups of new middle-schoolers to help tamp down any problems or worries they might be having during those first few back-to-school weeks.

The middle school counselors wanted to keep the WEB Club active during the remote start to the 2020-21 school year, but knew it would look different in the online world.

“We spend all summer building virtual trainings with the (eighth-grade) leaders,” Fitch said.

The sixth-graders went into virtual break-out rooms with their eight-grade mentors during their remote school-orientation sessions, and got to know one another.

“The activities were very visual,” Fitch said. “We’re all learning to navigate this weird space that we’re in, but it’s nice to be able to smile and see their faces and have some fun.”

At Liberty, the WEB Club has 53 eighth-grade leaders this year, down from 60 during the 2019-20 school year, but Fitch said the program is still going strong.

“I think WEB in general gives (the sixth-graders) someone they can talk to,” Fitch said. “Sixth grade is a prime age when they don’t want to go to adults anymore, so they can build relationships with their mentor and can ask them questions.”

For the eighth-graders, Fitch said the program helps build their confidence and shows them what it takes to be a leader.

“They really lead the orientation all by themselves now,” Fitch said of the eighth-grade mentors.

In pre-COVID times, the mentors would help their sixth-graders get a feel for the new building. That could still be a possibility once students return to a hybrid remote/in-person model, but Fitch said counselors are still not sure what will be possible during the pandemic.

“If we’re allowed to have the eighth-graders check in during the hybrid (model), we will, but I’m not sure we’re going to be allowed to do that. During the first couple days of school, we usually have the (eighth-grade mentors) in the halls during sixth-grade passing time, to help them adjust to their new building, so I’m crossing my fingers we’ll be able to do something like that this year. It’s just so hard to tell right now.”

Camas School District students will remain in a fully remote learning model while community transmission of COVID-19 is high. The district plans to bring elementary school students back for a hybrid of in-person and remote learning once the county’s COVID-19 numbers have been lower than 75 cases per 100,000 people for three consecutive weeks. Middle and high school students are expected to return to a hybrid model three weeks after elementary school students have returned. The county’s COVID-19 cases have remained in the “high” range, with more than 75 cases per 100,000 people, since Sept. 21.