MYSTIC — While singing one verse of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” groups of fifth-graders focused on how to keep everyone on board a simulated life raft made from a tarpaulin in the Mystic Middle School gymnasium Tuesday morning.

If anyone fell off the raft during the song, the group had to start over.

If everyone stayed on board during the song, then the group could step off and strategize for the next round, when the raft would be made a little smaller by folding the tarpaulin.

As the rafts diminished in size, laughter filled the gym as the students worked together to figure out how to hold everyone on board through each round.

“This is pushing them out of their comfort zone and they’re really working on team-building, communication and remaining positive when things are getting difficult —  and they’re going to have to do that next year,” said Amanda Illinger, a physical education teacher at Mystic Middle School, who led the exercise for fifth-graders from both Mystic Middle School and Pawcatuck Middle School. They were mixed together in groups in for a transition day in anticipation of the town’s middle school consolidation in the fall.

As of July 1, the beginning of the 2019-20 fiscal year, the two middle schools will merge to become Stonington Middle School, located in the Mystic building. Pawcatuck Middle School will be renovated to house the District Office, an alternative education program, and space for town recreational activities.

Illinger said the team-building activities were intended to be “replicas for real life.”

“It might be uncomfortable at the beginning of the year and these activities get them to understand that when they’re out of their comfort zone and they remain positive, they can still accomplish a goal,” she said. “If we can do that next year, when we’re out of our comfort zone in the beginning and we stay positive and work together, we can have a great year.”

As part of the transition day, the 165 fifth-graders also participated in one-on-one getting-to-know-you activities and took tours of the building. The sixth-graders from both middle schools participated in a transition day on Monday, and the seventh-graders did the exercises on March 8.

“For both sets of kids it’s an opportunity to meet and greet," said Tim Smith, principal of both middle schools and the future single middle school. "And, for the Pawcatuck kids, it’s an opportunity to see the building for the first time and to get a tour.”

Smith, whose office is at Mystic Middle School, said Tuesday that more activities would be scheduled when the the students come back in August.

Smith said the students could also do activities together using technology such as Skype to video-chat or Google docs to communicate, since their "advisories," or homerooms, have been paired up.

Matayo Swepson, 11, who attends Pawcatuck Middle School, said the activities on Tuesday were an effective way of getting to know his future classmates. “I think it’s a cool way to start off meeting new people that we’re going to be combined with in classes next year,” he said. “I just think it’s neat how we get to know our surroundings, like where things are, before we go there.”

Morghan Kuhn, 11, a Mystic Middle School student, said she had made a number of new friends over the course of the morning and she was looking forward to the consolidation. “I think it’s great because we’re finally having a bigger school and it’s going to be good because most of us already know everyone in our grade and it’s nice to meet some new people so we can meet new friends,” she said.

Pawcatuck Middle School student Marleigh Piacenza, 11, also said the activities had been helpful. “The raft was really fun because everyone got to work together and if you made a mistake it was OK,” she said. “I think the activities are really fun because you get to meet new people and learn things about them.”

Mystic Middle School student Ryan Bryant, 11, said the consolidation would bring some changes, like two lunch sessions and “a lot more kids than I’m used to.”

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “Like Ms. Illinger said, we’re trying new things, trying to get to know each other.”

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