By Mike Morsch, Regional Editor
It takes something pretty special for a kid to give up the last day of summer vacation.
Especially if it means going to school a day earlier than is required.
But thanks to the welcoming arms of administrators, teachers, staff and student leaders, Hightstown High School has been able to successfully pull off the improbable: Getting a lot of incoming freshmen to show up a day early before the official start of the school year.
For the past 10 years, HHS has had a Freshman Orientation Day, and this year school officials had a bit of a surprise. With an incoming class of approximately 450 students, a little more than 300 incoming freshmen were expected to attend the orientation.
When the day came on Sept. 6 though, around 410 freshmen – and an additional 50 parents or so – came through the doors of HHS to see what was new and interesting for the coming school year.
According to Assistant Principal William Delaney, one of four assistant principals at HHS, the school is trying to accomplish a few things with its freshman orientation. First, and most obvious, school officials are trying to eliminate any anxiety the new students have at being in a larger and unfamiliar building.
Another primary objective, though, is that school officials want the students to realize that their academic and emotional success is a priority for the entire community.
To that end, many business leaders, political leaders, local civic and community group leaders and school district administrators coalesce to demonstrate a team approach to the students.
“We find a great benefit to having local business involvement as it establishes a school-business bond that we build on in our community-based Cooperative Education program and in assisting students in filling local employment opportunities,” said Delaney.
The orientation day also benefited the parents, Delaney said, as they received information tailored to their needs.
For example, the day included a presentation from Mercer County Community College in the form of a consulting company that helps design a four-year educational plan to achieve the student and parent objectives; a presentation on substance abuse/use indicators; and a presentation geared to the Hispanic community on how to work within the school system for their students’ academic and social success.
When students first arrived at school that day, they received their schedule, ID badges, a book bag (provided by Provident Bank), a freshman t-shirt (funded by donations from Conair and Shiseido) and coupons from Rita’s Water Ice and Wendy’s.
Students then spent some time being introduced to student leaders, the administrative team and the guidance counselors. Students also heard from Principal Dennis Vinson about what was expected of them and then from Mercer County Community College President Dr. Jianping Wang on the “dual-enrollment” classes available at HHS and how these courses can reduce college costs and accelerate the movement through any college.
Students then spent an hour moving through their class schedule so that they could learn about the building and meet their teachers.
Lunch for the students came at no cost to the district that day and was funded through donations from local businesses, many of whom sent representatives – joined by local political leaders – to assist in the serving of the food to students.
After lunch, the students received some parting words of advice on how to enjoy and be successful in their first year at HHS. They also received some prizes that had been donated by local businesses.
The day ended for the students being “clapped out of the building” by the teaching staff on their way to the busses for the ride home.
“Parents love the idea of the positive start and appreciate that we added the parent component to orientation three years ago,” said Delaney, who has been assistant principal at HHS for 10 years after a six-year stint as assistant principal at Kreps Middle School.
“The business and political leaders are impressed by the quality of the students and the sincere interest everyone has in the students’ success,” he said. “And the teaching staff enjoys the blending of parents, students, business leaders, political leaders and district administration in creating a fun, productive and emotionally rewarding activity that is a positive contrast to the normal teaching activities.”
Delaney said he also appreciates the team aspect of Freshman Orientation Day.
“Everybody really does whatever they can do to help make this a fun and informative activity for the kids,” he said. “Above the obvious educational benefits to the activity is the positive bond we have established and maintained over the years with the business community. This positive engagement allows us to help both students and employers and that often makes a big difference in a family as they struggle with the daily life, search for ways to pay for college and in developing job skills that will carry forward in whatever career field they follow.”
By Mike Morsch, Regional Editor