Return to Headlines

New SoMa Citizens Program


By Michael Minor

Leaders Change the World !........Leaders Change the World !........Leaders Change the World........!!!!!

That was the resounding chant announcing the conclusion of the 1st session of SoMa Citizens at the South Orange Elementary School Friday March 23rd.

SoMa Citizens, a 6 part pilot program, brought together 31, 6th & 7th grade trained SOMS Ambassadors with 50, SMS raising 6th graders for a conversation to prepare them for the transition to middle school.

SoMa Citizens, created by Lindsey Minor, a current SOMS 7th grader and the president of RED, “Ready to Empower Daughters.” is designed to support students in navigating the transition from elementary school to middle school, to foster a sense of belonging across school communities and connectedness between students in different grades, and to empower our young students to both mentor each other and take on leadership roles in their schools. Participation in SoMa Citizens, allows students to self-identify as being part of the solution, empowered, self-expressed and unified as one community where all students belong and count.

The 6 part engagement will focus on issues, identified by students as both exciting  and concerning about in the transition.  Issues like friendship, navigating the school building, academics and identity, rose to the top of student concerns in our initial conversations with school professionals and were confirmed by early research, conducted by Dr. Gardenhire.

Group Structure:  SoMa Citizen Family “SCF”:

Families are made up of vertically aligned small groups of students representing each grade level (5th, 6th and 7th). This structure encourages the development of trusting, supportive “family” networks for the 5th grade students to use as resources during the pilot, as well as, once they transition into their middle school experience.

Eash group consisted of:

(5) -  Transitioning 5th grade students

(3) -  SOMS Ambassadors:

  • (1) 7th grade Leader (Circle Keeper)
  • (1) 7th grade Note taker
  • (1) 6th grade Supporter
  • (1) school social work intern

Conversation Structure: Community Building - Proactive Circles:

Circles create a space that lifts barriers between people, open the possibility for connection, collaboration, and mutual understanding.

Circles foster attentive listening, empathy, sharing, and equal opportunities of participation for all members, cultivating a strong sense of belonging.

Once receiving the approval of both Principals Irby and Jacobs, A small team of parents, Kim Hobbs, Roshnhi Patel, Jenna Hwang Ceterko, Alissa Gardenhire and Michael Minor, with guidance and support from Parenting Center, Karen Weiland, worked with SOMS Student Counselor, Stephanie Prall to bring Lindsey Minors idea to reality. 

At 9:25 Friday morning, the South Mountain elementary school was abuze with 50 excited, and ready to engage raising 6th graders ready to start the program.

At 9:30, 6th and 7th grade SOMS ambassadors, entered the school cafeteria, accompanied by a team of school social work interns and staff.

As trained by Stephanie Prall, over the last 6 weeks, the Bigs, now transformed into leaders, immediately engaged their littles who were organized by colors, directed them to their designated tables, and launched directly into the session.

After hearing a welcoming letter from RED Predisend, Lindsey Minor, who was traveling, the students heard brief welcomes by Parenting Center Karen Weiland, Stephanie Prall and SOMS Principal Lynn Irby.  Dr. Gardenhire explained the exercise and announced the launch of SoMa Citizens.

Session One: “Establishing Connectedness”, using the Fast Friends protocol tool, Developed by social psychologist, Dr. Arthur Aron and redesigned as an age appropriate adaptation by Dr. Alissa Gardenhire, owner of the new Best N Class tutoring center in south Orange.

Research shows the importance of connectedness to the well-being of individuals (physical and emotional health) and the effective functioning of social (and work) groups. Connectedness is built with familiarity, trust, understanding and a sense of shared being-ness/belongingness and interests.

Starting with the Fast Friends protocol tool, allowed the circle of “littles” (rising-6th graders) and “bigs” (current 6th and 7th graders) to build a sense of connection with each other that’s critical to the success of this pilot project. Students, within their circles, form into pairs and trios to go through the exercise to establish connectedness and reflect together on the experience of getting to know one another

After the exercise which lasted 30 minutes, each circle reporter, rose up and with an empowering voice, reported the highlights. These notes will inform a summary report to be used by 5th grade teachers to conduct the exercise during morning meeting with the entire class.

SoMa Citizens, Session One concluded with a warm, sincere thank you  from SMS Principal Alyna Jacobs to the SOMS Ambassadors, raising 6th grade student participants, counselors, cafeteria team and parents.

“Leaders Change the World........Leaders Change the World........Leaders Change the World........!!!!!”