By Patrick McArdle
On a hot Wednesday, it might seem like some ice cream served in the Rutland High School cafeteria could take away the sting of going back to school.
But incoming freshmen said they had fun on the first day of high school.
“It’s been really fun and it’s been a lot different because my old school at Rutland Town was a lot smaller,” said Brady Geisler.
Saying the teachers and returning students kept the freshmen busier than he expected, Philip Mahar said Wednesday was “a lot more fun that I thought it would be.”
Among the activities last Wednesday were a scavenger hunt that gave students a chance to learn the layout of the school and required them to meet many of their teachers to reach their goals, small group conversations between freshmen and older high school students, and an ice cream social at the end of the day.
Principal Bill Olsen said the day’s events were the first iteration of a program developed by the school’s freshmen team over the summer. The actual events were organized for the students by teachers and about 60 returning students.
Ashleah Adams, a junior, said she and her peers spent much of the day “welcoming the freshmen and making them feel like this is not an environment where you should feel intimidated.”
“I think it was nice for the upperclassmen to give them our experiences and what we wish we had done differently freshmen year, to kick-start them in a positive way and tell them, ‘You shouldn’t be afraid of high school and you should make the most of it.’ I think that really reinforcing that right now is what’s going to lead them to have the best four years of high school that they can possibly have,” she said.
Some of the new high school students were thinking about what high school will hold for them. Chaska Stannard said he was looking forward to “more challenging classes and sports, and meeting new friends,” while another freshman, Zoe Aigner, said she was planning to pursue “lots of different clubs.”
But the freshmen team at the high school, which has about 15 members, wanted to make the first day of high school special.
“Since I started teaching here, 14 years ago, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to do something about the freshman orientation.’ Eventually I said, ‘We need to take this on,’” said teacher Jennie Gartner.
The process involved talking to returning students and alumni to ask what they thought would work well for freshmen that isn’t already done, and what things from the past should be preserved.
Gartner said one of the most important additions was a period when freshmen could talk to returning students without teachers or staff present, so the younger students could speak freely. The door prizes and the scavenger hunt were also new.
“What I loved about (the scavenger hunt) is that you actually interacted with every single kid in this school. Every single kid got to say hi to at least a couple of their teachers, whereas in the past, the group would come in and I would just talk at them for five minutes. I feel like I’ve already started having that connection with students,” said Erica Wallstrom, who teaches freshmen classes.
Returning features of the first day were building tours, meeting with the students’ “flex group” and the ice cream.
Teacher Abby Brodowski said the events included participation from support staff, like secretaries, guidance counselors and attendance office staff, “whoever they’re going to have face time with regularly.”
The freshmen class at the high school has about 190 students, which Olsen said was about average for the school, although he said that number can fluctuate from about 170 to about 220.
Olsen said starting the year off right for so many new students was important. Freshmen are given presentations about some of the accomplishments of previous Rutland High School students.
“I said to (the freshmen,) ‘These (graduates) are moving on the next step or they’ve left the building. We need your leadership. We need your contributions.’ We want them to see that they’re learning, but they’re learning for a purpose,” he said.