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It's good to be a sixth-grader, according to students (from left) Jason Miner, Nick Manning, Bailey Hanson and Sierra Oden. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

Launching Cottage Grove Middle School

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education Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Mekayla Holm and Lindsey Maguire are worried about getting to class on time and getting locks open on their lockers, fears shared by most of the sixth-graders starting at Cottage Grove Middle School this week.

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"Middle school is a difficult time in their development," said Principal Elise Block on Sept. 3, the day a special orientation program called Where Everybody Belongs was held to ease the transition for sixth-graders now that the district's middle schools have transitioned from junior high schools.

There are many changes in the school including new shirts and other merchandise with the school's cougar mascot and new name.

There are 28 new teachers, eight-period days and each student will belong to a "house" where instruction is delivered in core subjects from teachers who will get to know students better than they did in a junior high setting.

Sixth-graders were individually invited to attend the program by eighth-grade leaders who took three days of training this summer.

Sixth-graders were also called by leaders on the night before school opened to ask if they had questions.

During the school year, leaders will wear green Where Everybody Belongs shirts from time to time. Sixth-graders are encouraged to ask them for help.

The program, led by teachers Adam Janiak, Kymm Salwasser and Susan Berg-Williams, who were also trained, began with a warm-up session in the main gym. Students also gathered in small groups to get to know each other.

Seventh-grade leaders, also new to the school, were not left out. They set up training materials and made welcoming posters that covered the walls of the schools.

"We want to get them used to the school," said Ali Rivers, a seventh-grader.

Students were asked to share answers to questions, asked by Janiak, with their groups.

"I want to be 22 and be done with college," said Holm, answering a question about something students hoped to do but had not yet accomplished. "And I could drive," she said.

"You have to be trusting," said Jordan Scollick, answering a question about what it takes to be a good friend.

Then, students assigned to the group shepherded by eighth-graders Sara Zimmer and Nick Gamache, went to a classroom for more activities centered on learning the names of people in their groups.

In a circle, they memorized each other's first names with and without wearing nametags, which Zimmer called "the easy or the hard way."

They were given sheets of paper to write down hobbies, interests and names of family members, including pets.

"We're going to color," said Maguire.

They also paired up to share their answers.

Gwen Warling told Joshua Levi that she loves playing softball and has three Guinea pigs at home. She'd also like to be a sports therapist.

She learned that Levi likes Legos, golf and bowling. He'd like to be a chemical engineer.

Getting Warling as a new partner, Holm told Warling she loves to dance. "I haven't played softball yet," she said. Warling smiled and anxiety waned as they found common ground.

As the morning went on and groups of 25 toured the school, friendships were developing.

Michael Griffin, the tallest boy in the group, found he had a lot in common with Matt Vancura, the shortest male.

Colin Buck and Jeremy Peterson were talking about science.

Students then gathered in the gym for final words from Janiak.

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