New Harvard Westlake Sibs program launches at Middle School

Harvard-Westlake (HW) Sibs, a program created over the summer to facilitate conversations and foster friendships between students of different grades that would not otherwise cross paths, is now operational at the Middle School.

The groups are made up of approximately 13 students each from seventh, eighth and ninth grade and will stay the same throughout one’s journey at the Middle School according to its creators. They are led by a faculty advisor during break and consist of discussions spanning from favorite snacks to the plight of finding friends in our new online multiverse.

The current iteration got its name from Big Sibs, a program run for years with the goal of seamlessly integrating new seventh graders into the HW community. It was run by Rabbi Emily Feigenson, HW’s former chaplain who passed away two years ago. While HW Sibs hopes to continue the legacy of the old program, which ended after the passing of Feigenson, the creators, Middle School teachers Alex Ras and Matthew Cutler, hope this new program will be a helpful resource for students of all grades.

“We want to make sure that the new students feel supported and have a place where they can ask questions and an adult they can respond to and get support from,” Cutler said. “We also wanted this to be about building a community for those students who are returning and to give them space where they can voice their opinions about things. It’s for student voices to be heard.”

The HW Sibs meetings were held on the first five Fridays of the school year and will take place once a month for the rest of the year. It is required that all middle school students participate.

“I think it’s interesting that they include all grades,” Ava Guagliano ’25 said. “We never really had that experience. It’s good for seventh and eighth graders to have an opportunity to hear from an older voice on campus. I hope that in the future, the program will take into account people’s interests, so that students have a chance to discuss shared passions,”

Like all other classes, HW Sibs has some kinks to work out when it comes to in-class participation on Zoom. Many students have found it nerve-racking to participate in an online setting and find it easy to hide behind the mute button.

“I notice that in Sibs, because of the large group size, it is easy to just stay muted because teachers don’t have as much time to focus on each student,” James Min ’25 said.

Ras and Cutler say that there are many other valuable ways to engage in Zoom class including participating in breakout rooms, utilizing the chats or even staying after class to give feedback to the adviser or discuss something with them.

Lauren Nichols ’03, a history teacher at the middle school and HW Sibs adviser hopes to not only give students a chance to talk about their day to day struggles, but to illustrate the importance of personal development and reflection.

“Harvard Westlake students don’t spend enough time thinking about what kind of person they want to be,” Nichols said. “It’s great to spend hours studying, but I guarantee you that one to five to 10 years from now you won’t remember a single thing about that. You will remember that time you were nice to somebody or when you thought about what kind of life you wanted to live. I hope Sibs will be a space to do more of that.”

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