For one day, incoming freshmen got East High School all to themselves.
The first day of school last Tuesday was only for ninth-graders at East and other high schools in the Madison School district.
The day started with some ice breaking and community building activities and a pep talk that included this quote by special education teacher Kyle Mayne, “People that make things happen make high school rock.”
The students also watched a performance by the Madison East Dance Team, toured the school, listened to a panel of students answer questions and offer advice, got information on school organizations and followed an abbreviated version of their class schedules.
The activities were led by staff members and upperclassmen who are members of Link Crew, a national program designed to bond newcomers with juniors and seniors. The staff members wore purple T-shirts with these words printed on the back: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
“I probably wouldn’t find the classrooms,” freshman Eva Binkley said about the importance of the ninth grade day. “You can kind of meet people before everyone else is here.”
Aleecia Paz, another freshman, said the students can get used to the school before other students come.
“It’s a good way to introduce ninth-graders to high school because they might have a lot of questions,” said freshman Ashley Ocampo Reyes who wondered how long classes are and what happens when she is absent.
“The ninth-graders get to come to school and they get to get used to everything by themselves,” said freshman Quentin DeBlare. “The big kids aren’t around so it’s not as scary.”
Freshman Anthony Elder, however, didn’t agree with the idea of having only ninth-graders there and wasn’t sure of the point since they will be with upperclassmen for the rest of the year.
Principal Mike Hernandez said most students are so nervous when they walk into “this castle,” referring to the massive school on East Washington Avenue built in 1922. It was designed by Madison architect Frank Riley who was inspired by the medieval universities of England, which typically used the Collegiate Gothic style.
“I like the fact that we get to just have freshmen here. It makes it a little less formal,” Hernandez said. “It allows students to make mistakes when they are walking around to find classes and not feel self-conscious.”
Senior Gabe Wasserman, a Link Crew member who was involved in running the first day, said he wanted to “make East feel like a safe zone.”
Paige Buske, another senior and Link Crew member, said she was interested in making students feel like this was their home and providing a good role model since she saw some bad examples when she was a ninth-grader.
Junior Nevaihia Boston, a Link Crew member, said she wanted to help students get the most out of their high school experience.
Wasserman had a piece of advice along those lines when he spoke during the panel discussion. “I would have tried more things,” by taking different classes or belonging to different clubs, he said.
Some freshmen said they would have liked a more in-depth tour of the school instead of playing games at the beginning of the day in the spectator gym.
“You’re just sitting there watching kids pop the balloon,” Irini Lucas said.
Student leaders are involved in planning the first day for ninth-graders and changes are made to reflect feedback from the underclassmen, Hernandez said. The student panel was added because students said they wanted to hear more from other students.
Regarding the games, Hernandez said sometimes when the gym is warm like it was last Tuesday, it can affect whether students want to participate. In the past, other students said they wanted to have fun on the first day and the school wanted to do some community building.
“You are going to be out of your comfort zone and you’re going to have to talk to different students,” he said. “It gets people moving around, and it gets students to interact.”