Posted by Ross Valley School District on 9/5/2019 2:00:00 PM
When you show up at the White Hill Middle School office to sign in, you will likely find Cary Adriatico there, unflappably seeing to everything all at once. If you ask where the new 6th Grade teachers’ lounge is, she will probably offer to walk you over herself.
“Stephen Pringle set it up,” she says as you walk. “Mr. Pringle is a super-parent. He’s our 6th Grade Angel. He did a lot of the plantings, the shade over the eating area, he brought umbrellas ...” When you reach the new faculty lounge she sweeps her arm around like Vanna White “...Sofa, rugs, I think some of the tables ... we’re all having snack in here today after school.”
Cary zooms away efficiently, smiling and waving on her way to doing more of everything, and leaves you to explore. You slip into a classroom and settle by the door.
Today Mr. Tunney (a new teacher to WHMS) is looking distinguished in his button-down and tie. Two weeks ago he was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt as he carried his things (potted plants, guitar, Wall Art) into his classroom in the newly-restored 6th Grade building. He somehow manages to be equally hip in either outfit.
“You are a social scientist,” he says to the class. “We are investigating the past. So ... What, my friends, is an artifact?”
The energy of 6th graders is contagious. A dozen hands shoot up. The students speak with their whole faces, using their arms for emphasis, umming liberally as they try to pack their electric thoughts into words:
“Maybe ... an object that is part of history?”
“Something that proves they were there.”
“Something they used in life?”
“Excellent,” says Mr. Tunney. “Select an object you use in life. Make a quick sketch of it (remember, quality matters!), then write a paragraph about what you can learn about the person who left this artifact ... What can it tell you? What did these people care about? What did they do?”
You slip back out of class while pencils are flying and set about investigating the artifacts of the 6th Grade building.
Inside the classrooms there are low chairs and high chairs, chairs that rock and chairs that sit directly on the floor. Students can sit reading in alcoves or stand to write if they prefer. The hallway is newly painted and artwork is going up.
Outside there are shaded picnic tables and Adirondack benches, a neatly trimmed lawn, and friendly plantings. You think of Mr. Pringle, 6th Grade Angel, and smile.
The doors on either side of the front entrance to the building itself read “School Psychologist” and “Counseling Center”. When you were a kid, psychologists seemed daunting and scary, but Heidi Smoot is more like a favorite auntie. She’s friendly and kind, chatting easily as she shows you the new space for the Binder Hospital (a parent-led program where students can go for help with organizational skills) then walks you over to the Counseling Center.
There are comfy chairs and sofas in there, games and art supplies, and a big poster reminding you that MINDSET MATTERS. “What do kids come here for,” you ask the School Social Worker?
Autumn Arbree says, “Oh, gee ... whatever’s on their minds. Friendship issues, family dynamics changes, anxiety. The whole country is having a youth anxiety epidemic. Sometimes they just need a quiet place to sit for a while. We have groups for grief and loss, for social skills, Behind Differences, LGBTQ Pride Alliance ....”
The Academic Counselor, Michele Pelton, joins you and adds, “This Center will be a work in progress. It will be based on the needs of the students. We have space now and that’s a game changer ...”
Ms. Arbree jumps back in and the two of them continue, building on each other’s ideas. “Hopefully this becomes a place where kids can just come to relax, and that will reduce any stigma about services ...”
“A lot of times, if kids act up it’s because there’s something on their mind, so kids can come here now instead of being sent to the office ...”
“And if they aren’t ready to talk they can just be for a while ... “
“Our ultimate goal is to teach kids coping skills that work at school.”
When you leave the Counseling Center, the students are out for morning break, sitting in chattering groups or quietly in ones and twos. You watch them fondly as they navigate their various transitions, from social studies to math class, summer to fall, elementary to middle school, and soon enough from childhood to high school.
When the bell rings and it’s time to transition back into class, Mr. Hess welcomes every one of his students with an individually-agreed-upon series of handshake moves, some of which are quite intricate and each of which is unique. You feel confident, looking around this cozy 6th grade “soft landing” pad, and past it to the splendid buildings built for the 7th and 8th graders to come, that future archeologists will easily determine that this community values its youth.