School Doors Open for Returning Students

At the High School: Freshmen Arrive One Day Early

By ALEXIS TONTI

Wednesday dawned cold and foggy with a light drizzle, an ideal morning to hide under the covers and sleep in. Unfortunately for students, that particular luxury is gone until next summer. The school calendar does not abide the weather, and high school freshmen (back a day early) had no choice but to face the grayness. Orientation began at 7:40 - a.m.

Most of the 202 students were on time, but even on the first day a few came late. Bookkeeper Jay Swartz watched a wandering pair at the far end of the hall.

"They're absolutely precious when they come here. Just wonderful," she said. "And they're so little - the boys especially. But by the time they leave," she added, looking to the ceiling, "they hit six feet. Absolutely wonderful."

Inside the Performing Arts Center, the assembly was under way. Each freshman received a student handbook that doubles as a school planner. It also contained the day's most important tool - a map of the high school.

Administrators, guidance counselors and various department heads introduced themselves, explained rules and offered advice.

The students in the audience had self-segregated by elementary school, so that each was grouped in its own section of the auditorium, the lines between them quite clear. But as guidance director Michael McCarthy pointed out, those barriers would soon break down and new bonds of friendship would form.

He also talked about the challenge freshmen face in finding a place for themselves in a larger setting than they're accustomed.

"You guys are coming from the eighth grade, where you were the cool guys running the school," he said. "This is a lot bigger than you're used to, and maybe you're nervous about fitting in and finding what's right for you . . . but you have an opportunity right now to define yourself in this school.

"You can decide right now to work hard and make something of your high school career," he said, "and four years from now you will see the fruits of your labor."

The assembly ended with students following their homeroom teachers to class. Some lingered to talk with friends, turning back only to find their leaders gone and themselves lost.

"I don't even know who my teacher is," said one girl helplessly. A quick check of her last name against the master list provided the answer, and she hurried away to make up for lost time.

The schedule for the half-day was an extended homeroom period, followed by a 15-minute session of each of the eight classes in their schedule. In a regular school day, students only attend four classes, each for 85 minutes.

Inside room 308, science teacher Mike Joyce took attendance and passed out schedules. He explained the rotation of periods that over a two-week cycle makes every day a little different.

"Don't worry," said history teacher Marge Harris, who was also helping students wade through their schedules. "For the first few weeks you'll live by this sheet of paper, but after that you'll know your way around."

Mr. Joyce also stressed the importance of organization. "Your classes meet every two days," he said, "and if you have extracurriculars or a field trip and miss class, then several more days can pass in between. You don't want to be making up work constantly, so stay on top of things. Use your planner, write it all down."

Then came locker assignments. As everyone spilled into the hall to try their new locks, friends coming from different classrooms - separated only since the assembly - found each other among the crowd. They exchanged greetings as if years had passed rather than half an hour.

"Can you tell I work in a whole other wing?" Mrs. Harris asked a student as she tried to help her find her locker. "All right, let's think," she said. "The numbers go down, we should be able to find this logically." The problem, as it turned out, was the locker was located in a different bank, farther down and away from where everyone was clustered. Locks clicked and doors slammed for five minutes before students returned for the final moments of homeroom.

"It's going to get very crowded tomorrow," Mr. Joyce advised. "So take advantage of today. And generally, the best thing to do is get involved with a group. There are multicultural and language clubs - it doesn't have to be sports or music. Sign up for a bunch and see what you like."

The bell rang ("That is so annoying," one boy muttered) and students headed for their first classes.

"Where are we?" one girl asked her friend, consulting her map as they walked. "I think we're going the opposite way I thought we were going," she added, without changing direction.

Compared to some, those girls were ahead of the game. "I saw somebody whip out a map," a boy said. "Where'd that come from? How do I get one?"

Everyone made it to the right place, eventually, and the business of classes began. Some teachers jumped right in with lessons and assignments, while others gave an overview for the year and explained their expectations.

"Why is history important?" asked global studies teacher John Tirrell. Met with the usual shy, first-day silence, he continued. "We're all linked to history. It's not just a lot of old, dead people. All of the things that happened thousands of years ago have effects today."

Several times he asked if there were any questions, about his class or otherwise. Finally a boy raised his hand: "Why are the desks greasy?" he asked.

Finally, someone had hit upon the one question for which there was no answer.