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Waterford — “I know I’m doing it right, I think,” Nitia Somineni, 11, assured herself between fumbling attempts to open her locker.
Wednesday was the first day of sixth grade at Clark Lane Middle School for Nitia and her twin, Nidhi. The two kneeled before their lockers alongside another friend from Great Neck Elementary School, who will join them on the Aquamarine Team this year.
Students on the same teams share teachers for the core subjects of math, science, social studies and language arts.
Aside from the locker problem, Nitia said she was pretty excited to start school. Principal James Sachs described locker problems as one of the most stressful parts of the day for new sixth-graders.
“Nightmares, the whole deal,” he said.
Jitters about new classes, excitement about new teachers and confusion about bus schedules — all hallmarks of the first day of school — were manifest at Clark Lane Wednesday morning.
But there was one aspect adults may not recall from their own junior high days: an emphasis on preventing cyber-bullying.
“We cannot address any mean-spirited act or bullying unless we know about them,” Assistant Principal Tracy Moore told students over the morning announcements, which were projected as video on the high-tech white Promethean boards located throughout the schools. Her voice echoed in the hallways.
Sixth-grade teacher Nicole Kennedy, who teaches language arts and social studies on the Aquamarine Team, said that bullying is less of an issue among sixth-graders, but the school wants parents to keep tabs on their children’s use of electronic devices nonetheless.
“They generally listen at this point, and they want to do what’s best,” Kennedy said of sixth-graders.
Sachs and Moore sent a letter addressing cyber-bullying to all middle school parents and said they also called every seventh-grade parent before school started. Kennedy said seventh grade appears to be the year when cyber-bullying reaches a peak.
“We tell students, ‘Never send or post anything you wouldn’t want forwarded to everyone, including their parents and teachers,’” the July letter states.
Moore said cyber-bullying usually takes the form of posting mean comments about other students online. She said there hadn’t been a specific incident that spurred the school’s efforts to prevent teasing and other negative activity over the Internet and on mobile devices.
“You see the potential,” she said. “I think that’s what we see, is the potential for kids to get into trouble.”
Seventh- and eighth-graders said that while they had witnessed some online bullying, they didn’t view it as a huge problem.
Bullies didn’t come up as a concern among sixth-graders flooding the front doors of the school.
“I’m nervous ’cause everything’s so much bigger,” said new sixth-grader Orrin Pierce, 11.
Sixth-grader Camron Bessette, 11, said he was entering school with friends but was generally nervous about a new setting.
“I’m nervous,” he said. “I’ve never been to middle school before.”
The transition comes with a great deal of independence, according to Kennedy. But it also comes with quite a bit of hand-holding and time to adjust.
Sixth-graders got to practice locker combinations and walking class to class last week and on Wednesday enjoyed an extended homeroom period before classes started.
Kennedy told her students that she would help students who ride the bus find the right set of wheels at the end of the school day.
“It’s very low-key,” Sachs said of the first day, standing just a few feet away from Nitia Somineni’s locker. “Tons of extra time for everybody.”