On last Monday's first day of school, scores of sixth-graders at Corkran Middle in Glen Burnie walked the hallways wide-eyed, as if they were stuck in a maze.
They were the newcomers, fresh from elementary school, some switching classes for the first time. The Anne Arundel County system allows sixth-graders to get acclimated one day before seventh- and eighth-graders return, but for many of the youngsters, that didn't seem to help much.
It's a good thing students like Ciara Bahadur were around. The 13-year-old from Glen Burnie was among 42 Corkran eighth-graders who constitute the school's mentoring program, which enlists older students to help the newcomers make the transition — welcoming them into the school, pointing out the appropriate hallways and offering warm greetings at assembly.
"When I was in sixth grade, I was really nervous because the school was so much bigger than my last one," Ciara said. "I have a lot of friends who were in the seventh grade, and they knew the school and so they helped me out. That made it so much easier for me.
"And when the new sixth-graders came, I wanted them to know that they would always have a friend that they could come and talk to."
In its fourth year, the mentoring program has supplemented Corkran staff and faculty's efforts to make the start of the year run smoothly for its more than 200 sixth-graders. And it allows eighth-graders to put leadership skills to use, even if it means coming to school a day before their official start, while many of their counterparts are relishing the last day of summer break.
"I didn't mind coming back a day early because I love school," said eighth-grader Ariana Aragon, 13, of Severn. "I love the fact that the teachers are here. They help us so we can help others. I thought the first step to [helping others] was helping the sixth-graders when they first arrived here."
This year's mentoring program members were selected from among 120 students who applied for the positions. To be a member, one must have excellent attendance, good grades (most, but not all, are "A" and "B" students) and recommendations from a teacher, a guidance counselor and an administrator.
"These are kids who are at the top in terms of being known around the school as leaders," said Jiovanni Felton, guidance counselor and mentoring program coordinator.
He said that initially he thought that many eighth-graders wouldn't warm up to coming to school a day early. But he found that the students enjoy it, and the sixth-graders sometimes prefer having another student to turn to for questions instead of teachers.
"There needed to be some leadership within the students themselves to help the younger kids," Felton said. "We continue our tradition of being a family at Corkran. The older kids are almost like older siblings to younger kids."
Mentoring program member Alisha Miller of Glen Burnie said that she joined with long-term goals in mind, namely taking part in a program that would look good on her college application. But on Monday, her goals were more immediate. Eager to spread enthusiasm, she gave high-fives to practically everyone who walked a long corridor en route to an assembly.
"I like to have fun because I think it shows that you're a little bit more energized and pumped up and ready to get the day going," said Alisha, 13.
Ciara Bahadur said that by the end of the day, many of the sixth-graders knew their way around. Some students, she added, seemed embarrassed to ask for directions.
"I don't think they should feel that way because even I still sometimes get lost," Ciara said. "Even in seventh grade I didn't understand how to get around." She added that many rooms' designations have been changed and when it comes to getting lost, "they're not going to be the only ones."
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