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High school gives warm welcome to incoming freshmen

Transitioning from middle to high school is often a difficult change for young teens. The expectations and responsibilities are higher than ever before in the fast-paced world we live in. To help incoming freshmen adjust, Chenango Forks High School traditionally orchestrated a “Personal Best Day” for incoming freshman at Chenango Valley State Park, where students could spend the day participating in fun activities that promoted team-building and communication. When the flood of 2011 hit and destroyed many of the park’s facilities and the high school’s resources were spread thin, the annual event was cancelled.

Planning “Freshman Transition Day”

During the 2016-17 school year, freshman class advisor Sue Byrnes coordinated with high school principal John Hillis to reboot the event under the name “Freshman Transition Day,” for the 2017-18 school year. Lourdes youth service counselor Kristin Ely, high school safety monitor Dustin Sturdevant and high school freshman transitional guidance counselor Gabrielle Testani aided in planning the event and tailoring it to the needs of the freshman class.

The goal of the event, and the program to follow, is to facilitate and support the transition between middle and high school. Improving attendance, self-esteem, mental health and face-to-face communication are also goals the coordinators had in mind.  

“We want kids to want to come to school,” said Byrnes. “We don’t want them to fly under the radar, we want them to feel like they have a sense of belonging and take an active role in the building.”

Improving the program to better address the needs of the incoming class was essential. In addition to the 20-plus teachers who helped facilitate the event, 23 junior-class mentors volunteered their time. The addition of mentors was to provide a link between the freshman and staff, and facilitate the growth of a solid support system for freshman class.

The mentors and teachers held team-building exercises over the summer in the form of a “Chopped” competition, where teams of three had to create a dish from ingredients provided. The mentors also created a welcome video for the incoming freshman that included information on what to expect, some advice and inspiration to start the new school year.

The day of the event

The freshmen were divided randomly into groups with two mentors assigned to each group. The teachers led different team building activities and the mentors helped the teachers and students along the way.

Students participated in nine events throughout the day including, yoga, break-out (a puzzle activity), mountain biking, scavenger hunt, juggling, ropes course, team building, high school trivia and STEAM challenge. Each activity was meant to encourage communication, mindfulness and cooperation.

At the end of the day a presentation was also given on the importance of good attendance.

What’s next?

Freshman Transition Day was the beginning of a year-long collaborative effort between teachers and the student mentors to help integrate the freshman class into the culture of the high school. The mentors will meet with interested freshman once a month throughout the school year for various activities. While the monthly events are voluntary, the hope is that a large portion of the freshman class will find value in activities. Some of the upcoming activities include: making blankets for the annual holiday basket drive, participating in the Grecian Sing, New Year’s resolutions and goal setting, choices and consequences, time management and accountability, respect and independence, and motivation. 
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