image of students in gymnasium

Story by Ainsley Hall

SPRING MILLS — Spring Mills Middle School invited Sabrina Thompson to speak during its No Backpack Day as the students began school on Monday.

As part of the Jostens Renaissance program, students were told to leave their backpacks at home while the school focused on community and starting the school year right. Thompson helped make the first day of school a bit more special as she encouraged them.

For the first time this summer, a group from Spring Mills Middle School attended the Jostens Renaissance Conference to learn how to make a better school environment for both teachers and students. Principal Amy Haderer and the rest of the group talked with other Jostens Renaissance schools, such as Musselman High School, to get ideas on how to change the culture of their school. They decided to organize a No Backpack Day on the first day of school where, instead of getting assignments, students focused on getting to know their peers.

Today’s purpose is community building for staff and students,” Haderer said. “Throughout the day, they do community building activities that spur their thinking. With a school as big as ours, there are kids that get lost. Sometimes students will go the whole year without knowing their peers’ names. We want kids to intentionally get to know the people around them.”

One way they made the first day of school more memorable is by inviting Thompson to come speak to the students. Thompson is known for being runner-up in Season 24 of “Survivor.” She was invited to the show after the showrunners mistook her for another Sabrina Thompson.

Even though she didn’t officially apply, Thompson jumped at the opportunity. She is a published author, owner of KUU Productions and currently travels around the country speaking the high school and college students. She spoke to the Spring Mills Middle School students about her experiences overcoming challenges and encouraged them to survive middle school.

"Middle school is one of the hardest periods in life,” Thompson said. “You’re not young enough to be treated like a kid but not old enough to be given more responsibilities. For me, it was really hard. I’m honored to come and talk with these students.”

Thompson encouraged the students to follow the four “Cs” — challenge yourself, connect with yourself and those around you, cheer yourself on and choose to have a good mindset. Thompson assured the students that if they learn to do those four things, they will survive this next school year.

“We invited Sabrina with the hope that she would share her story of overcoming challenges so that we can start putting our own challenges in perspective,” Haderer said. “We face two kinds of challenges. Some challenges require us to translate our needs to others, while some we must power through on our own. Having someone from outside the school come makes it more memorable for the students.”

Haderer hopes that students will look back on that day and remember it as the best first day of school.