Celebrating “New Freshman Day”!

In two weeks 450 freshmen will enter our building for a District mandated visit. If it were a holiday, it would be New Freshman Day. The visit is only 90 minutes long and we already have 2000 people in the building. Space is limited. So what’s the goal?

Like so many holidays that people make up, we will celebrate with the time and space that we are given. I found a website that lists all the amazing things people celebrate. Before I roll out our plan, take a look at what people are celebrating during the first week of May:

May Day

Loyalty Day

Mother Goose Day

Save the Rhino Day

Baby Day

Brothers and Sisters Day

Lumpy Rug Day

National Teachers Day (Tuesday of the first full week of May)

World Press Freedom Day

Bird Day

National Candied Orange Peel Day

Renewal Day

Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!)

Cinco de Mayo

National Hoagie Day

Oyster Day

Beverage Day

International Tuba Day – first Friday in May

Military Spouses Day the Friday before Mother’s Day

National Tourist Appreciation Day

National Nurses Day

No Diet Day

Space Day – first Friday in May

Birth Mother’s Day – Saturday before Mother’s Day

National Tourism Day

That’s a lot to celebrate in seven days! I didn’t know rhino’s had a day! And what’s up with May 3rd? Lumpy Rug Day? Do tourist really need to be appreciated? May 6th – Beverage Day – seems a bit ambiguous.

We are being very specific. We are celebrating new freshmen that join us in the fall. Here are the objectives.

  1. We can give new freshmen a sense of place, especially for those on their first visit.

  2. We can enhance our culture by training 100 of our students to welcome the new freshmen.

  3. We can communicate big picture ideas about high school. The theme is courage and choices.

  4. We can show, through the stories of present high school students, that high school is more than homework.

  5. We can provide a positive first experience for the class of 2020.

The morning starts with the bus attack. Two upperclassmen enter each bus before it unloads and courageously welcome students to our campus. The 8th graders are asked five easy and fun questions about high school. The first correct answer gets a t-shirt. All other right answers (and wrong answers) are rewarded with a piece of candy.

At a set time students are dismissed from the bus and enter the building. We wind them through the building in what we call The Eighth Grade Parade. Teachers are emailed the parade route ahead of time and many teachers bring their students. Students are asked to keep one foot against the wall as we have found the channel narrows without that directive. The energy is positive and may students enjoy seeing younger brothers and sisters or friends. It ends at the auditorium and they file into their seats.

A student leader greets them and welcomes them to WHS. Mr. Conrad, our principal, gives a short introduction. He talks about two things that they will receive from their time here: an education and memories of what they did.

This is followed by one of my favorite activities with the 8th graders.

The Courage Game: Cultivating the Ability to Move from Here to There

  • The 8th graders are seated in the auditorium.

  • WHS students stand at the ends of the aisles.

  • Each WHS student has three piece of candy (fun-sized candy bars)

“The most difficult task in high school is getting from here to there.It’s that journey from where you are to the meeting or club or sport that you want to get to. It can be a scary journey, but that’s what courage is. Courage is a doing a good thing in the face of fear. Fear is required for something to be courageous.”

“In just a minute some of you are going to make a choice. Look at the number on your chair.(All chairs have small metal plates numbering each seat.) Look at the last digit. So if you are 15, you would be a five. I’m going to call two numbers. If I call your number, you have the choice to stand up or stay seated. It’s up to you.”

“3! You have the option to stand or stay seated. . . Some of you cheered. Why? Grateful it wasn’t you? Glad it was them?”

“7! You have the option to stand or stay seated.”

“Now you have another choice. In just a minute I’m going to ask you to leave your row and as you do, you will receive a candy bar. It may change where you end up today. Please sit down or go find another row to sit in. It’s up to you.”

  • Students move.

  • After everyone has moved and sat down, I have those that moved stand up. They are cheered for their courage.

  • This is a critical skill in high school.

  • Students have this choice multiple times a week.

  • It’s a critical skill.

Prior to the event I use a Google form and teacher announcements to recruit 100 students, mostly freshmen, to lead this event. At this point in the program, I dismiss them to the Commons to take their seats at one of our lunch tables. Two leaders will talk to groups of six eighth graders.

For the 8th graders, I will talk about where they are going next. Half of them will move to the Commons/Cafeteria and find a place at one of the marked tables. I model how walk with courage. People who walk with fear run about and push and generally look uncool.

I will walk through where they will exit at the end of the morning as it’s the only time I will have all of them together.

I then dismiss the front half of the room to our Commons.

The counselors facilitate this event. Washington students chose their own partner earlier that morning and talk through the below outline. Prior to the event I meet with students for two 30-minute training sessions to discuss how to walk through the below points.

Introductions (30 seconds)

  • Your name

  • Year in school

  • Partner introduces themselves

For these topics, each students selects one of them and tells a story from their life.  (2:30)

  • What was the best choice you have made since coming to high school?

  • As a student, what would you do differently if you were to start high school over?

  • One of the activities I chose to do this year was . . . .

    1. How did you get started?

    2. How much time does it take?

    3. Why did you enjoy doing it?

1st Group – Settled by 10:12, 10:15, 10:18, 10:21 – Dismiss 10:24  (3-minute sessions)

2nd Group – Settled by 10:32, 10:35, 10:39, 10:42 – Dismiss 10:45  (3-minute sessions)

For the half that remains in the auditorium, the theme of movement continues. I present information on three different choices they will make in the next four months. For each choice, two high school students present along with me.

If the student says “Yes” to the choice, they will move to a new seat in the auditorium. With only half of the auditorium full, this will give them a chance to move around. They will have 20 seconds and then another 20 seconds to find a new seat. They are the class of 2020. I talk briefly about integrity. Do what you say. Say what you do.

Choice #1 – Connections

This is a summer transition program. About 20% of our freshmen go through this program. Click on the above link for an overview of the program. Students that are registered or thinking about registering move to a new seat.

Choice #2 – Freshman Orientation

We use Link Crew for our event. Their material is fantastic and students respond well to the experience. Students who say “Yes” to attending Freshman Orientation move to a new seat.

Choice #3 – Facing the Fear of the Lunch Tray

One of the most fearful activities for new freshmen is lunch. I hold up a lunch tray and tell them this is nothing to fear. I call up 16 volunteers, carefully balancing boys and girls as well as representing the different middle schools present. They run a relay that teachers a number of things as they walk through the three stations. 1.) Grab a tray and walk 1/2 way across the stage. The 8th grader lifts the tray in the air and says “I am courageous!” 2.) They go to a student volunteer posing as a Lunch Lady and receive a bag of marshmallows. They must say “Thank you” to the lunch lady or receive a double portion. This highlights the importance of great manners in a fun way. 3.) They move to one of the two lunch tables that have been brought to the stage and sit down to eat their marshmallows.

After they sit down the next person can do the same thing. One of the middle school teachers judges each table. They raise their hand as soon as all marshmallows from the eight students are gone from the table and from the mouths.

I close with the Lunch Tray Pledge that creates a common experience for this class of 2020 that has gathered for the first time. It is somewhat done in jest but with all seriousness.

All rise and raise your right hand:

As the class of 2020

We do promise

To give courage to each other

Especially when near a lunch tray.

I point each school to their correct exit and the students head back to their middle schools.

Here is a list of images and ideas that we hope they leave with as they journey back:

  • Many students lined the hallways and cheering their arrival.

  • They heard about courage.

  • They watched courageous 8th graders participate in activities.

  • They heard great stories about what students are doing right now in high school.

  • They heard about a great summer program that they might like to join.

  • They heard about Freshman Orientation.

  • They took the Lunch Tray Pledge and will think about that on their first day of high school.

  • Many stepped up and had their first success in high school.

  • Many received a t-shirt.

  • Many were encouraged and welcomed to a high school that will soon be their home.