STONINGTON — “Stressed spelled backwards is desserts,” proclaimed one classroom door at Mystic Middle School. How to ease stress? Spend time with friends, exercise, meditate, laugh, breathe, eat well, lots of rest, go on a run, were a few of the suggestions.
A new take on “most wanted” posters covered a door at Pawcatuck Middle School, naming the most wanted qualities in a friend, such as loyalty, caring and trust.
Friendship, personal growth, setting goals, integrity, acceptance — these were just a few of the messages students sent one another in a joint activity that connected the two middle schools, which will consolidate in September.
“We know that we need to get our students together before they come together in one school next year,” said Meghan Breen, dean of Mystic Middle School, on Monday.
A common thread joining the middle schools is the advisory period where students go each day for attendance, with a longer 35-minute session every four days, said Breen.
In the grades 6-8 advisories, both schools are using the Second Step curriculum for a social-emotional activities, which include online components, videos, discussion questions. Advisories have been paired up as a way to connect students from the two schools. Some have formed pen-pal partnerships, others are using Google docs or Google Classroom.
“We thought that was a great place for getting these connections between the students,” Breen said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to get to know someone else who might have an interest level similar to theirs at the other school.”
Arthur Howe, dean at Pawcatuck Middle School, said the Second Step program provides a way for the students and staff across all grades and both schools to talk about the same topics with lessons that are age-appropriate and progress with the maturity level of each grade.
“It’s giving the teachers a curriculum to follow, they’re all doing the same topics, they’re all talking about the same things,” he said. “For example, when you’re in sixth grade, you’re talking about being kind to your neighbor, but in eighth grade you’re talking about relationships.”
Instead of the Second Step program, the fifth-graders picked themes from the Great Kindness Challenge, a program that challenges students to find ways to express kindness, to decorate their advisory doors, he said. Fifth-graders from both schools are also connecting with one another through technology, such as Google Hangouts and pen-pal partnerships.
Camerin Brown, 12, a seventh-grader at Pawcatuck, said her advisory chose emotions as its theme.
“We chose emotions because there are many emotions that happen and it’s not always easy to express them,” she said. “We decided to do it because it can show that no matter how you feel, you’re always needed and wanted and everybody’s still there for you.”
Josh Marsh, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Pawcatuck, said his eighth-grade advisory chose technology as its door theme.
“Originally we had their phones on the door, but they wanted their phones back,” he laughed. “They all have their different interests, but the role technology plays in their lives was the one unifying factor the kids shared.”
Dan Agins, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Pawcatuck Middle, said his sixth-grade advisory had trouble coming up with a theme and finally created a simple but powerful message using a roll of green paper and a pen.
“We tried several times to even just cover the door properly and each time it just failed and failed and failed. I think we went through three rolls of paper,” he said. “So, we decided the door is a metaphor for middle school. People walk around and they think it’s kind of an ugly door and it doesn’t fit the mold. It’s about acceptance and all of the imperfections and self-consciousness of middle school.”
At Mystic Middle, sixth-grade teacher Jocelyn Kepple, who is also a town selectwoman, said Monday her advisory chose “grow your brain” as the door theme.
“It’s about growing your mindset — having a growth mindset as opposed to a set mindset,” she said. “The first lesson was all about getting out of your comfort zone, learning a new skill, making new friends.”
She said her class along two other advisories teamed up to make videos to introduce themselves to the corresponding advisories at Pawcatuck.
Sixth-graders Ella Wertz, 11, and Katie Lavoie, 12, who are in Kepple’s advisory, said they were excited about the schools’ consolidation.
“I think it will be new but I also think it will be fun,” said Wertz.
“It’s a great experience for both schools, because we’re almost getting a new school — we’re getting a new mascot and we’ll have new friends from Pawcatuck,” said Lavoie.