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On Chickenman, changing classes and staying off the senior bench

Freshman Connection eases transition to high school


Oliver Shapton remembers that when he was younger, his older sister “always told me how scary the seniors were.”

Freshman Eleanor Barrett with her new textbooks

When he attended Freshman Connection four years ago, however, Oliver said the upperclassmen “seemed so happy to see us, and so friendly. It was a healthy surprise.”

Now a senior himself, Oliver was one of about 75 upperclassmen members of the school’s Leadership and Youth Development Program (LYD) who spent a few hours last week showing incoming freshmen the Pioneer ropes.

Kathryn “KK” Milanowski and Preston Bergstrom also have older siblings who attend or have graduated from the school, and it appeared theirs had been more merciful than Oliver’s.

“I feel like I already know the gist of things,” said KK, who declared herself “not really that nervous.” Preston, too, appeared relaxed about the social aspects of his new school, and said his biggest concern is how much tougher classes will be compared to middle school.

Freshman Preston Bergstrom

Orienting to the Particulars

But first things first.

The high school’s 250 or so incoming freshmen filed through a single door into the gymnasium as LYD members flanked them on both sides and cheered. Next it was a crash course in popular Pioneer football game chants (see video).

Next, freshmen broke into small groups headed by LYD members who applied last school year to help out at orientation and underwent training last May.

During Freshman Connection, LYD members led icebreaker activities and guided them through textbook selection, yearbook photo sessions, team-building games, a building tour and question-and-answer periods.

Q&A queries were varied:

“How long do you get between classes?” Five minutes.

Freshman Kathryn ‘KK’ Milanowski

“Where is the senior bench so I know not to sit on it?” You’ll know it when you see it, freshmen were told. (Explained Student Council President Megan Tinerella on a later tour: “Don’t pop a squat there. It’s just a respect thing. It’s tradition.”)

“What’s your best piece of advice?” Learn to balance schoolwork and fun, seniors said. Break yourself soon of a procrastination habit if you have one. Ask teachers when you need help. Join a club by just showing up, and if there isn’t one for what you are interested in, start one.

Principal Craig Weigel said that besides the particulars of high school, the goal is for new students to “gain a little confidence heading into their first day of high school.”

“I’m really appreciative of our parent volunteers and student leaders who make this transition activity such a success,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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