By Christina Rice
Maryville Middle School’s school families allow students to feel a sense of belonging and create strong relationships.
As the school went through the Leader In Me process, administrators realized that the older students did not interact with the younger students because the school building is designed to keep the grades segregated.
Staff members wanted students to build relationships with each other, so they created a program that allows students of all ages to integrate while challenging the older students to mentor the younger ones.
They called the groups school families because the family structure creates a sense of belonging and acceptance, something administrators wanted to foster. Each group is composed of students from fifth through eighth grades and includes one or two staff members. The families give students a safe place to be themselves and feel accepted, an opportunity some students might not otherwise have.
“I have seen an increase in fifth grade students being comfortable with the older students by being able to build relationships with the older students,” fifth grade special education teacher Laura McComb said. “It makes them feel a part of the school culture here. Even though they are new this year, it helps them feel included.”
This is the second year for the school families. Staff members hope the families will create friendships among students who would not normally interact. Teachers would also like the families to help students create a bond with other staff members, allowing students to feel safe sharing their concerns.
“The students love it and always ask when family day is. It is working on relationships, building trust and giving younger students the opportunity to have an older role model in the school,” Principal Kevin Pitts said. “We have had a lot of good feedback. We plan to continue it and make it a stronger program.”