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Cedar Heights program gets kids where they’re supposed to be

When Cedar Heights Junior High eighth grader Megan Hamer moved to the community in February, she felt isolated.

“When I came in, I went through the counselor’s office, got my schedule and somebody — I have no idea who it was — showed me where everything was,” she said. “It was just thrown out there.”

That’s why Hamer, who previously lived in Hawaii and Tennessee as part of a military family, is excited to get involved with a new program at the school.

Cedar Heights started the school year with an assembly Wednesday morning to welcome seventh-graders to the school. Principal Andrew Cain said those newcomers were assigned to a “Where Everyone Belongs” group. The ratio generally was about eight seventh-graders assigned to two students in higher grades.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable and safe,” Cain said. “It’s really about creating a community.”

Some WEB leaders were nominated, while others applied for the position.

Cain, who is in his third year as principal at the school, said orientation typically occurs during the summer, but there only was about a 60 percent turnout in the past.

“It’s hard to get everyone together in the summer,” he said. “We really wanted to start with a bang.”

Cain previously worked in the Shoreline School District, which used a similar program at its high schools, and presented the idea to others involved with the school in addition to parents.

In addition to getting the newcomers familiar with older students around the school, Cain hopes that the interaction can promote “making positive choices.”

“I don’t want people to think we’re saying, ‘Hey, kids, you run the school,’ ” he said. “Instead, we’re empowering them to take ownership of their own lives.”

That extends to the older students, as well.

“We don’t bully and haze,” Cain said. “We treat people with respect.”

The day began at 8 a.m. with an assembly and older students cheering as the seventh-graders entered the gym. It continued with some interactive games between students, and Hamer, who is a member of the dance team, gave a performance. Students later were told about activities they come join at the school to blend with others.

“It’s a warm welcoming,” Hamer said. “It lets them know other people care.”

Cain said new students will be incorporated in the program, which runs through the school year. He said other activities might be planned around it such as study sessions or attending a football game together. Or maybe just someone to ask give guidance in a hallway.

“We hope there will be informal relationships developed,” he said. “When you see your Web leader, that’s a safe person to ask questions.”

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