Rockford — Excitement and jitters are standard fare for most students entering their freshman year in a new school. But for freshmen who are new to a large school district like Rockford Public Schools, those jitters can be amplified — especially since most new students are coming from smaller private, charter or home schools into a building with 560 students.
Olivia Pohl is a student at Rockford’s Freshman Center who came to the district from a parochial school where just 167 students are enrolled in grades K-8. As she sat down at a table in her new school’s cafeteria, she was not yet sure how she felt about being at RFC, but did say she is happy to ditch her school uniform and wear what she wants to school.
School counselors at RFC were hoping to make Olivia and the 47 other new district students feel a bit better about the move to a huge district by providing a special event recently just for them.
Rebecca Dietz, a school counselor who is also new to Rockford Public Schools this year, led the session. She said she knows what it’s like to be in a new place and wanted the students to know they’re not alone.
“(Students are asking) ‘Where’s my locker?’ ‘Where are my classes?’ ‘Where is this teacher located?’ ‘Who am I going to sit with at lunch?’ That’s why this (event) is so important: to get them together so that the students know that they’re not the only new kids in the district,” she said.
Once Dietz (who previously taught in East Grand Rapids) had introduced herself and other school staff to the new students, she sent them off to answer fun questions with their tablemates. Table groups were specifically arranged by shared lunch periods to answer that “Who will I sit with at lunch?” question.
And while it took a few minutes for conversations to move from awkward to familiar, soon the room was filled with the sounds of chatter and laughter you’d expect to hear in a high-school cafeteria. It helped that members of RFC’s student council were walking around to visit each conversation group, answering questions their classmates might have had about their new school.
In one group of girls from schools like Chandler Woods Charter Academy, Rockford Christian School and Our Lady of Consolation Catholic School, some were eager to jump into life in such a large district.
“It’s kinda fun. There are just so many things to do,” said one student.
Once the formal part of the morning session was over, the students had the freedom to hang out and play games while munching on donuts from a local bakery. Some even won Rockford RAM gear.
As for herself, Dietz is already feeling like she belongs.
“It’s a really special place,” she said.
Read more from Rockford:
• Students tackle youth mental health crisis with peers
• What does it mean to be a Ram?