Sometimes all it takes to feel better about something that you are dreading is to adhere to an age-old cliché – just take a breath and face your fear.
Unfortunately, when it comes to starting a new year of school in a brand-new building, there’s not much you can do to face your fear outside of simply hopping on the bus and stepping foot into the new building with as much confidence as you can muster.
Even more, in an age where societal pressures to succeed have, perhaps, never been higher – as more jobs require college degrees and your actions are more under a microscope of parental pressure exacerbated by standardized testing and the watchful eye of social media, not to mention the abysmal fear of school violence – finding confidence as a young person today is much easier said than done.
This is why programs like the SIMS program in Warwick provide such a crucial experience for kids. The program allows students entering middle school for the first time to run through essentially a simulation of what their new school routine will be like prior to starting the year through a week of camaraderie-building, orientation-style activities.
In Warwick’s case, this year that means both sixth graders – who other years would have stayed in elementary school for another year – and seventh graders, who traditionally would have started junior high this year, got to face their fears in a controlled setting where the lone goal of the educators, staff and administrators there was to ease anxieties that might be plaguing them ahead of the beginning of the school year.
The program covers the gamut, from how to read a schedule (the first time these kids have ever had to be responsible for following a schedule of classes), to what the expectations are of them now that they’ve moved up to the secondary level of education, to much more simple things like how to find your classes and how to unlock a locker.
More than simply providing information that answers kids’ questions – questions that often lead to stress in the days leading up to the new school year – the program provides the opportunity for the kids to meet with other kids going through the same anxiety and fears as they are. It normalizes the emotions they are feeling, and trained professionals at the schools help by further hammering home that it is normal to feel overwhelmed when making a big life change like the one they’re embarking on.
The implications for such a program are tremendous, and incredibly positive. Students at the SIMS program’s final day at Warwick Vets didn’t seem like kids about to finish summer vacation and begin school. They were laughing with one another and smiling while performing activities with their future classmates; some had obviously already made new friends.
By removing a stress factor in a generation of kids plagued by early-onset bouts of anxiety and stress-related illnesses, you are not only preventing possible damage to the child but also replacing it with a better opportunity for the child to have a positive experience on their first day of school, which can lead to a better opportunity for a good experience in the many days of school to come. Every good beginning provides a better chance for a good ending.
As always, the efficacy and true potential of this type of program can only be unlocked by proper funding. Currently, the program is funded by a combination of federal and local moneys. It is uncertain whether or not those federal dollars will be retained, especially under the current administration. Given the school’s budget situation, there is certainly no guarantee the district can pick up the slack if that funding is lost.
It would be a shame were that to happen, as the SIMS program is one of those heartwarming programs that should be considered for expansion to the whole student body. Its value is readily apparent through the reactions of its beneficiaries – students, who after the program were actually more excited to come to school than nervous. We certainly need more of that in the world, for the benefit of our youth, and the world at large.