Fifth graders at Winona Middle School (WMS) recently embarked on their middle school journeys. On Tuesday, staff members and fellow students welcomed them to their new school during an orientation day with team-building activities and tours. 

Staff cheered as the students entered the gym under an archway of black, orange and white balloons to start the day. WMS Principal Dave Anderson was among the staff members who were enthusiastic about having the new students at the middle school at this time of change in their lives. “I think for them, it’s just the excitement of changing buildings, from their elementary to come to the middle school. So, it’s a big day for them … I’m excited to have the kids back,” he said.

The welcome for fifth graders happens before students in the other middle school grades start classes. “I think it’s important for fifth graders to have their own day, their own orientation day before we get everybody here tomorrow,” Anderson said. Some goals of the programming include helping fifth grade students feel more comfortable in a school that is new to them and bigger than they are used to and assisting them with meeting new friends from the elementary schools they did not attend, Fifth and Sixth Grade Special Education Teacher Danielle Alseth said. “It’s a good kickoff to the start of the year,” she said. 

Throughout the day, staff and select eighth grade students, called WEB leaders, facilitate team-building activities and tours of the school. The eighth grade leaders went through a few days of training this summer to prepare for welcoming the new students and facilitating activities. In one activity, fifth grade students raised their hands and replied, “That’s me,” to statements that applied to them read by a staff member at the front of the gym, such as “I have a pet,” “I play video games” and “I like ice cream.” Students also learned how to use their lockers and had an opportunity to meet their teachers for ice-breaking activities. 

Two eighth grade students who are WEB leaders, Lanee Rasmussen and Teagen Berzinski, said they felt the activities were helping their fellow students adjust to their new school. “I’m enjoying just … seeing how happy it makes them,” Rasmussen said. “They seemed really welcomed and comfortable, when before, when they just came in, they were really scared.” 

“When we were out in the lunchroom greeting them, they seemed kind of nervous, and I think in there, the activities kind of helped them get to know each other and feel more welcomed here,” Berzinski said. 

The staff members and two WEB leaders agreed that they hope the fifth grade students feel more confident about the school year, from making friends to knowing their way around the building. “I hope they learn that they are always welcomed and they can always come up to us and ask us anything if they need help, and [I hope they will be] just finding new friends and really getting to know the school,” Rasmussen said. 

“I hope they meet new people for sure, because it can be really nerve-wracking to come to a new, huge school,” Berzinski said.