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Sandy Journal

Indian Hills Middle: Where Everyone Belongs

Oct 01, 2022 08:17PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Before school began this fall, the hallways at Indian Hills Middle School were filled with students.

It wasn’t just a place where these young teens were hanging out. Rather eighth-grade students were being trained for 10 hours to prepare and welcome this year’s sixth-grade class as well as learning how to handle certain situations, how to direct sixth-graders that may need help, and how to develop leadership skills.

These 70 eighth-grade leaders are part of the WEB — Where Everyone Belongs — program and in August, they were mentoring 400 incoming sixth-grade students by introducing them to teachers and staff, giving them a tour of the campus and navigating their way to their classrooms on their school schedules and even giving them insider information on how to open their school lockers.

“The big thing about WEB is that these eighth-graders remember how it feels to be new to the building, so they’re here to help smooth the anxieties that these new students may have,” said Kerry Butcher, who along with Aarica Hamilton and Gage Pulsifer oversee the program. “We have many sixth-graders who are scared to come to middle school; they have this preconceived notion of what middle school is going to be and how these eighth-graders are going to be these big, bad, scary people. When they come here on Friday before school starts, they come in very timid and very scared. After we've done all of these activities, we see this calm come across our sixth-graders, because they know what to expect. They've seen the school, they know that the eighth-graders aren't big and scary that they are there to help them and they’re much more at ease.”

The program isn’t just an orientation day. On the first day of school, the mentors sit with the sixth-graders at lunch.

“We want everybody to have somebody to sit with that first day,” Butcher said. “Then, after that when we have activities. Often, we see sixth-graders gravitate back to their WEB leader to check in with them and get advice and help. I like how this intergrates the relationships, provides sixth-grader students with mentors and it gives those eighth-graders a sense of ownership and responsibility and they're better advocates and representatives for school.”

Teacher-librarian Marissa Merket has seen the program expand since its inception 2015 under then Principal Floyd Stensrud. Often, she said, the eighth-grade WEB leaders plan several activities during the year to do with the younger students.

“Through WEB, we want to be ensured our sixth-graders are comfortable, making sure that they have a successful start at school and then, continue that with having our eighth-graders at a lot of activities,” she said. “I've worked at other campuses where seventh-graders, who were the youngest, were just scared and they didn’t even open a locker and they didn’t know the building at all. The WEB program gives them a chance to feel welcome and at home.”


Butcher said this year WEB leaders have planned a Halloween carnival in October followed by a hot chocolate scavenger hunt. In the past, eighth-graders have written notes and given candy to the sixth-graders for Valentine's Day and have had festivities in the cafeteria on St. Patrick's Day.

“The eighth-graders prepare the games and activities beforehand and then they make sure that the sixth-graders know where to go and are having a good time,” she said. “I think this really brings together a sense of community between our students. When you take the kids out of the classroom, which is so structured, and give them just a little bit more free time in a safe environment to make those relationships with other sixth-graders, who might not be in their same classes, or to solidify the relationship friendship with the eighth-grade mentor, it’s a good thing.  It's also good to have those eighth-graders with them throughout the year and just to let the sixth- graders know that there is still somebody out there who's thinking about them and who wants them to have a good year.”

Merket said she’s seen the eighth-graders become empowered and feel a sense of responsibility and ownership for the program.

“Those eighth-graders wear a shirt that's given to them with the WEB design and the words, ‘Warriors Stick Together’ and it really brings out that these eighth-grade students are kind and loving and want to help their peers and help them understand that they’re safe here,” she said. “It really is giving these students leadership skills and realizing the importance of connection.”