Shelburne Middle School students work to ease back-to-school anxiety

Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 4:37 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Schools across the Valley are back in session with students masked up and excitedly reuniting with their friends.

Shelburne Middle School in Staunton is making sure students are ready to get back to their studies. Teachers say the transition from fifth to sixth grade can be hard, especially when some students haven’t had in-person instruction in over a year.

“Sixth grade is always a big change, and they’re moving into a new building with multiple teachers throughout the day. For some of our students, they haven’t been inside the school building for up to a year and a half, so there’s even more anxiety, I think,” said language arts teacher Lea Thorne.

On top of teaching, Thorne also coordinates a program called WEB.

It’s a national program called ‘where everyone belongs.’ Our eighth graders actually welcomed our sixth graders back,” said CJ Hill, a language arts teacher and WEB coordinator.

WEB started in the summer with “WEB Day” when rising sixth graders were invited to get a tour of their new school. They also got to do crafts and ask older students questions. The day is led by the eighth grade WEB leaders.

Shelburne Middle Principal Jennifer Morris says WEB day is a great start to a program crucial to the school.

“It’s important that our rising class of Shelburne Highlanders feels comfortable here,” Morris said.

Hill says the program is a great way to ease the transition to a new school, and it allows eighth graders to assume a leadership position.

“They’re used to have one teacher in elementary school, but now it’s multiple teachers in one day, so it’s hard to get used to that, and it’s way different,” said WEB Leader Bryson Moore.

Another WEB leader, Geniya Madden, has enjoyed fulfilling a leadership role.

“I’ve gotten to help out the sixth graders, we’ve worked with them and stuff. It’s been great to be back and see the sixth graders and help them out,” said Madden.

Sixth graders say WEB has helped them get used to a new school, and they say it’s been nice to see familiar faces.

“It‘s been exciting because you get to, like, reunite with them. It’s been very fun so far,” said 6th grader Kasia Hart, who has fond memories of WEB day.

Over the summer, school leaders and community officials had to decide how to get students back to the classroom safely and how to manage their anxiety along the way. Thorne says they’ve handled the changes well and that WEB has been increasingly important.

“Kids are very resilient and they’ve been able to adjust to the ever changing school situation and being back in building is a comfort to most of them,” Thorne said.

WEB has been part of Shelburne for three years, but this year, they say it’s been particularly refreshing.

“I’m very optimistic about the young people that we’ve got here in this school. We’ve got a great group of eighth grade leaders, and they’re helping out the sixth graders,” said Hill. “I think when we focus on students learning and taking care of each other and being their best, it’s really easy to see the goal ahead.”

Above all else, faculty and staff say they are happy to have students back. Morris says just the sound of students is exciting.

“Last year we were virtual for part of the year, and then we were blended for part of the year. The thing that you miss the most is the sounds of a school, where there are students learning, moving through the hallways, asking questions,” Morris said. “There’s just a certain sound to school.”

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