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Northland Pines upperclassmen prepare to mentor incoming middle school studentsSubmitted: 08/15/2017
Lane Kimble
Lane Kimble
News Director
lkimble@wjfw.com

Northland Pines upperclassmen prepare to mentor incoming middle school students
EAGLE RIVER - With a digital clock's big red numbers counting down to zero over her shoulder, Claire Reese felt some pressure Tuesday morning.

"A lot rests upon our shoulders right now," Reese said.

But as the Northland Pines senior's team struggled to figure out code words and open locks, the pressure was less about solving this puzzle and more about making sure incoming students don't end up puzzled themselves.

"It's really a big thing upon my heart just to be there for these younger kids," Reese said.

Tuesday morning, Reese joined about 20 Pines juniors and seniors for peer mentor training and practice at the high school.  The group was picked to mentor seventh and eighth grade students who will soon transition into the high school building this fall. Reese understands the feeling -- she moved from Alaska to Illinois and eventually to Eagle River when she was 10 years old.

"It made my transition so much smoother just to be able to have someone that I could go to, so that's what we're trying to be for these students, just a smiling face," Reese said.

Those smiling faces will pair up to mentor middle school homerooms every day when the school year begins in September. The mentors will also plan monthly activities to help the middle schooler students adjust to their new building and new classmates.

"They're ready for this challenge and excited about it," Northland Pines High School Social Worker Courtney Weber said.

Weber helped choose the upperclassmen for the pilot mentor program. She also worked to plan the program starting back in January.

"Parents and community members had significant concerns and this is kind of a response to it," Weber said.

Pines decided during the 2015-2016 school year to move the approximately 170 middle school students into the high school building, which is just across a parking lot. A growing fab lab and strong elective programs made the decision an easy one in high school principal Scott Foster's mind.

"We're really focused on how we can best serve our students [in grades] seven through 12 and not necessarily just in the silo of a grade," Foster said. "[The high school] just had a lot of opportunities that, you know, we had a great facility in our middle school, but this creates more options for students."

Those are options Claire Reese can't wait to show off to the middle schoolers joining her building, including her two sisters in eighth grade.

"I look at it almost as another class that I can be putting myself into and putting my time and energy and effort really into that," Reese said.

Northland Pines starts classes September 5th. The middle school students will push the student body to around 570, which is just shy of the building's capacity of 600.

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