At Soos Creek Elementary, there is a feeling of family, thanks to Star Families program

They may not be actual brothers and sisters, but the older students at Soos Creek Elementary are certainly beginning to look out for the younger members of their new Star Families.

Soos Creek sixth grader Merinda Slater

Soos Creek sixth grader Merinda Slater

They may not be actual brothers and sisters, but the older students at Soos Creek Elementary are certainly beginning to look out for the younger members of their new Star Families.

Sixth-grader Courtney Harris, for example, said she really enjoyed helping her little buddies with the cutting and coloring from Friday’s project making valentines for seniors living at Arbor Village.

“We’re having a good time,” said Harris, 12. “You get to meet new people. And they’re so cute.”

Harris and the rest of the school are all part of a new program at Soos Creek, one in which the traditional grade-level separations are thrown away and new, multi-aged “families” are created as away to get the kids at school to interact more with each other and take more ownership in the safety and well being of other students at all grades.

“It’s about building community,” said principal Patty Drobney, adding that the program is helping every student feel responsible for each other, turning the school into “one big family.”

“We want that family atmosphere,” she said.

The program began late last year and was set up by Soos Creek instructional coach Kim Swan, along with kindergarten teacher Carol Cade.

Swan said she had seen a similar program at a Catholic school where she taught and though it would be a good addition at Soos Creek.

The student population has been divided into 18 “families.” Siblings and actual family members are kept in the same group and each family has two adult “parents.” All staff members including Drobney and members of the office administration take part.

Drobney said the hope is that there will a greater sense of acceptance throughout the school.

“We’re hoping we’ll see less discipline referrals and less types of bullying behaviors,” she said.

Drobney said the program is also helping assimilate students who have come to the school as part of the school-choice program when their neighborhood school failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, a milepost in the No Child Left Behind law. When a school does not meet AYP for two years in a row, parents must be given a choice to move their child to a school that has made the grade.

At Soos Creek, where the majority of the population lives within one mile of the building and walks to school, the new students can sometimes feel left out.

The hope is with the Star Families program, so named because the school’s mascot is the “Superstars,” those new students will also feel more at home more quickly.

Sixth-grade teacher Niki Bonnell said she has already seen effects of mixing her class with younger students. For example, when a sixth-grader says hello to a first-grader in the hall, Bonnell said she has seen their faces “light up.”

“This is a very important connection for some of the kids,” Bonnell said. “Their nurturing sides come out.”

Bonnell said the effect is also good on her students, many of whom are getting to an age when they tend to withdraw and/or become a little more self-centered.

“I really like watching them interact with the little kids,” she said. “It’s good to remind them that there are people who need their help.”

Sixth-grader Elizabeth Tchaikovskaya, 12, said though it’s sometimes a “challenge” to work with the younger kids, she thought a program like this would have helped her as a younger student.

“You get more comfortable with the school,” she said.

Brooke Bennett, 12, agreed.

“I think it’s a good way for the kids to get to know each other,” she said.

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