For many students, the years from sixth to eighth grade can be the most difficult of their entire schooling career. The middle school years are filled with changes – physically, socially, and academically – and middle schoolers can benefit from solid relationships, both with their peers and with the adults in their lives. How do you help them build relationships that last?
Relationships With Trusted Adults
The middle schoolers in your TRiO program likely come from a variety of backgrounds, with many of them disadvantaged in some way. To help them maximize the benefits of participation in TRiO, you will want to develop relationships with them. Relationships with trusted adults can help them to build confidence, foster motivation, and strengthen social skills.
Build relationships with your program participants by:
Giving them your full attention
One-on-one time with a student can help them to feel valued. Middle schoolers typically seek validation and acceptance from their peers. Giving a single student your full attention allows them to relax a little. Spend your focused time together learning about their interests, their family, and their life. Connecting and bonding with students in this way doesn’t have to take a great deal of time – just a few minutes here and there can become the foundation for a strong relationship.
Students can sense when an adult is genuinely interested in them. For economically challenged youth, there may be little encouragement at home to share their dreams, thoughts, and goals. Many times, their families are focused on meeting daily challenges such as paying bills and buying groceries. Under such circumstances, preparing for long-term success can feel foreign to students. Having an adult to take an interest in things that are important to them is huge.
Having a sense of humor
For the students in your program, being able to share (appropriate) humor with you and your staff can be key to building relationships. Fun, laughter, and joy should all be part of your program, and participants will look to you to lead the way. Having a sense of humor, even when things go wrong or when a student makes a mistake, can help create a positive atmosphere. A willingness to laugh at yourself or find the levity in a situation will enable students to trust you and be the basis for a positive relationship.
Attending student events
Most Trio program activities take place outside of school hours, so you have ample opportunity to get to know your participants outside of an academic setting. However, attending student events that have nothing to do with your program can go a long way toward building relationships with your participants. Your presence at sporting events, drama productions, and other extracurricular events will give you insight into other parts of your students’ lives.
Middle school students benefit immensely from positive, lasting relationships with the adults in their world. But what about their relationships with their peers?
Relationships With Peers
Middle school is, without a doubt, one of the toughest periods for many students. As the transitional phase between elementary school and high school, there are plenty of changes for students to experience. Schoolwork intensifies and requires more effort. Friend groups constantly shift and remake themselves. New responsibilities and opportunities seem to be around every corner. Add in the physical and emotional changes that puberty brings, and middle school can be incredibly challenging.
Help them to build relationships with one another through activities that encourage them to push past their self-consciousness. Inspire fun and connection with activities like:
This or That
Summer or Winter? Tacos or pizza? Basketball or football? The world is filled with fun topics that students can take a stand on, explain their choices, and find connection. This can be a great activity to break the ice in a larger group. Alternatively, you can split students up into teams or pairs.
Build a Playlist
For most students, music is a big part of their lives. From TikTok challenges to creating lists of songs to fit their many moods, middle schoolers are tuned in to a variety of music genres. Ask them to come together as a group and build playlists for a variety of scenarios. They may find shared interests in songs and artists and may also discover new music to connect over.
Toss out some random questions to the group. What was the last show they binge-watched? Who do they admire? What is their favorite game? Give each one 30 seconds to answer and don’t allow others to interject or interrupt during each person’s allotted time. At the end, let them mingle and discuss things further.
Separate students into small groups and set a time limit for them to chat among themselves. During this time, challenge them to learn what they all have in common. A short time frame, such as five minutes, will help keep them on task and eliminate overthinking. Whether it’s a favorite sports team, a type of pet, or even their eye color, chances are they will find more than one thing they all share. After their time is up, ask them to work together to create a drawing or other artwork that represents their common ground.
There are tons of great ideas to help get middle schoolers talking and connecting. Just search for “team-building ideas for middle school” online and adapt these activities to fit your program participants.
Relationship Skills for the Win
Solid relationships with trusted adults as well as peers can help students successfully navigate the middle school years. Learning the necessary skills to connect and relate to others will help them to build relationships of every kind for the remainder of their school career and beyond.
For students participating in a Trio program, solid relationships are a reliable source for support and validation that may be lacking in other areas of their lives. Peer relationships as well as those between your participants and staff can make your program successful.
https://www.trioperks.com/blog/using-incentives-with-trio-perks TRiO Perks can help you to keep your program participants engaged in your program by enabling you to award points for participation. Participants can redeem these points for incentives specific to your program, which can boost excitement. Because TRiO Perks is fully digital, you can take it anywhere – on field trips, throughout your school campus, and everywhere in your community.
We’d love to show you just how TRiO Perks’ digital token economy works – contact us to set up a demo!