This Wednesday, ninth-graders normally the buildings underdogs will rule Watertown High School.
Back by popular demand from parents, the school is holding its third annual Freshmen First Day, which will have incoming ninth-graders start school at 7:30 a.m. and be comfortably oriented with the building by 2:25 p.m.
The initiative started three years ago after officials consulted freshman programs at schools in Carthage, Fulton and Oswego. They forged together the most positive parts of each program to make their own.
The sole purpose was to reduce the anxiety of the high school experience, said Assistant Principal Leslie Atkinson. Our entire staff is on board.
She is not exaggerating. Every teacher, even those who do not teach underclassmen, will be placed strategically in every hall in the high school. From 11:55 a.m. to 2:25 p.m., students will attend all the periods they normally would, but each class will last 11 minutes. Teachers will have a chance to give students a pep talk before they head to their next class. In case one of the 285 freshmen gets lost, someone will be available to get directions from.
This is fabulous, and every teacher Ive spoken to is so positive about it, said interim Principal Joseph M. McGrath. This is one of the best initiatives here.
Mr. McGrath will be almost as new to the school as these students, and already gave an orientation presentation to parents on Thursday. When he was chatting with an upperclassmen teacher, the teacher told him he had never known a ninth-grader previously but developed a rapport with at least five of them during a previous Freshmen First Day.
It appears to me that the Watertown faculty has made a commitment to these students, Mr. McGrath said.
Other activities for freshmen that day will include an introduction in the auditorium, picture-taking for photo identification cards, a tour of the building and, of course, receiving their first schedules of the semester.
Theyll get all the materials they need to be successful their first day of school, Mrs. Atkinson said. It gives them the opportunity to anticipate their first day.
And it will give them that opportunity without the sometimes-unconscious intimidation by upperclassmen. Mr. McGrath joked he could not remember what his first day of high school was like, but Mrs. Atkinson recounted the intimidation she felt.
You try to walk the walk and talk the talk, but its so difficult, she said.
Additionally, teachers will be encouraged to talk about keeping up attendance and graduating from high school in a timely fashion. Mrs. Atkinson noted research that says the transition between middle and high school is crucial to the rest of the high school experience. She said she hopes Freshmen First Day, among other initiatives, will help more students graduate on time. However, she said she knows a big thing like graduation is a step-by-step process.
If we come away with the day doing nothing more than make these kids comfortable, we will deem it successful, she said. Thats what it was designed to do.