Buses officially rolled for the first day of school Wednesday, but about 340 sixth-graders in the Class of 2023 and some 270 high school freshmen in the Class of 2020, have already had one foot in the schoolhouse door for the past week.
Freshmen attended an orientation session at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School on Wednesday, Aug. 24, with about 200 grade six students learning their way around Whitman Middle School and another 140 or so attending orientation at Hanson Middle School on Aug. 25.
High school athletes attended an information night Sunday, Aug. 22.
Orientations at the middle schools and WHRHS featured upperclassmen on hand to give school tours, demonstrate lockers, answer questions and otherwise ease the transition for incoming students. Parents’ questions were answered by administrators as their children learned about their new schools.
W-H Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak introduced faculty and administration members attending the high school session before explaining the purpose of the evening, organized by English teacher and student mentor coordinator Ellen Galambos.
The 80-plus student mentors had to apply for the position, Assistant Principal David Floeck said.
“They had to put down reasons why they wanted to be a mentor and, pretty much to a person, they talked about understanding how important it is to get off to a good start, remembering how it was to be a freshman coming into the high school,” Floeck said. “A lot of them wrote, ‘I remember how important my mentor was to me when I started … They helped me navigate to a good start and I want to give back.’”
Szymaniak also praised the mentors, while explaining the change to a semester-based schedule at the high school this year.
“These student leaders are from all over the walks of W-H halls,” Szymaniak said. “You have athletes, people that perform in drama, you have musicians, you have artists, you have scholars … you have the students who started the Harry Potter Society here … they all sat in your seats as freshmen.”
He said opening the door and stepping into an opportunity is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but stressed the students in school activities want freshmen to join them. Every student is welcome to attend Student Council, a non-elected body, for exaample.
“The more you get involved as a student, the more you can balance your academic, social life and extra-curricular life, the better off you are — the more successful you are,” he said.
Szymaniak cautioned, however, that academics will always come first as students build a high school transcript that will determine a lot about the direction they take in the future. He also urged students to communicate with teachers when they need extra help.
“It counts,” he said. “What people look for after you graduate is your record. Your record here is your transcript — your grades and your attendance.”
The balance of academic excellence and extra-curricular activities were also stressed at the middle schools.
At WMS, eighth-grade student leaders, wearing long-sleeve gray T-shirts with the school’s motto for the year — “Work Hard and Be Kind” — were on hand to assist new sixth-graders with the transition to what principal George Ferro termed 580 days of personal and educational growth before high school.
“This is going to be the quickest three years of schooling that you will have,” Ferro told students and parents, noting only law schools are also based on a three-year program. “If we can achieve students who know how to study, if we can achieve students who know how to communicate effectively with their peers and adults, if we can achieve students who can think for themselves, if we can achieve students who respect themselves … [who] can respect others, then we’ve given them as many skills as they need to be successful in life.”
At the same time he said students will be expected to Work Hard and Be Kind every day they come to school.
“It’s not a joke,” he said. “If you work hard and be kind you’ll be successful, your parents will be successful, your community will be sucessful.”
School rules were also reviewed.
There will be no gum-chewing. Cell phones are not allowed in classrooms at WMS, sixth-grade social studies teacher and event coordinator Beth Stafford told the students. They are to be turned off and left in lockers or placed in classroom bins. Boys are expected to remove their hats in school and girls’ tank top straps are to be at least an inch wide.
“Remember this is not the beach — this is school,” Stafford said.
Students should walk to the right in halls and use the center stairs for “up” and the side stairs for “down.”
Students also must bring a silent reading book to peruse on occasions when they finish a classroom assignment early. Some teachers give pop quizzes to check for them, she cautioned.
Rewards were also featured to add to the fun.
At WMS, it was a grab-bag of school supplies for the first team of 10 students to finish a get-to-know-your-school scavenger hunt — without losing anyone. Stafford donated the prizes. At the high school, student mentors held raffles throughout the evening.
“This group of people dedicated time this summer to go through mentor training and they also donated some of their very hard-earned cash … to put together some raffle prizes,” said Floeck, noting about $300 in gift cards and other raffle prizes were drawn during the evening.
At HMS, Principal William Tranter said his incoming sixth-graders were divided into groups for tours of the building, meeting their teachers, activities such as tug-of- war, in which he participated and basketball — followed by ice cream.
Both middle schools will hold an open house in which parents can follow their children’s class schedules and meet teachers at 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 8.
Elementary Schools held open house at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 30. Families of students at all schools have been urged to follow the schools through Twitter for news and updates.