Jumana Khalifa, Doreen Welsh, Sara Berardi and Arjun Aggarwal answer questions about from Lawrence Middle School eighth graders as part of Lawrence High School’s pen pal program. (Photo by Miguel Gonzalez.)

Coming into Lawrence High School as a freshman, Sara Berardi had butterflies in her stomach.

“I was so stressed,” Berardi said. “I felt like I was going to get lost. I was so nervous, it was nerve racking.”

Berardi, currently a senior at Lawrence High School and president of its student council, is now part of a group addressing the anxious feeling of the transition from middle school to high school.

Last month, the student council started a pen pal program between LHS students and eighth graders at Lawrence Middle School. With bright pieces of paper and pens at their disposal, students such as sophomore student council vice president Arjun Aggarwal can answer any questions from nervous eighth graders wanting to know what high school is like.

“We did pen pals when we were little, connecting with someone else,” Aggarwal said. “We noticed a really big problem when the middle schoolers come into the high school that they’re kind of confused. They have a lot of questions, and they can’t really connect to the high schoolers.“

Aggarwal says eighth graders are more comfortable interacting with high school students when teachers and adults are not present.

“The thing that kind of sets this program apart from asking or emailing the guidance counselors is that the eighth grader is contacting a student directly,” Aggarwal said.

Doreen Welsh, a Lawrence High guidance counselor and advisor for the student council, helped get the pen pal program approved.

Welsh hopes that the pen pal program will encourage more middle schoolers to ask questions and become more prepared for high school

“We are hoping the eighth graders will have more confidence coming to the high school as they read the answers to their questions and share them with their friends,” Welsh said. “Knowledge is power, it can only help them with the transition process.”

During their first time responding to messages, student council members received a wide variety of questions. From food, sports and electives to navigating the hallways, the student council had plenty of advice to share.

“You pick up little tricks as you move up the grade level,” Berardi said. “So you can tell them the easiest ways to get to class or what are they things they should do on their first day. Like what should they do to avoid getting lost. It relieves stress from their big, first day.”

At the same time, Jumana Khalifa, a junior council treasurer, compares the pen pal program to older siblings giving advice to younger ones.

“You get to see their perspective about how they feel about the transition to high school,” Khalifa said. “Some kids have older siblings, but many don’t. So it’s like having an older sibling where you can ask questions.”