“It was just so great to see so many kids, and I could tell there was a huge difference, because I was there when they first came to school in August [for orientation], and it was just such a different feel. Kids were more relaxed, having more fun, interacting more, and you could tell that the teachers and kids had already developed relationships even though they’ve only been communicating via Teams, “ said Mark Milliken, Dean of Faculty at ORHS.
On Wednesday October 7th, ORHS welcomed the freshman class to the school for a day of outdoor, socially distant, team bonding activities. It gave the class of 2024 a chance to connect with their peers and advisors for the first time in person since freshmen orientation in August.
The 9th grade program was a collective effort of the Exercise Physiology and Wellness (EPW) department, the administration, and other teachers who volunteered. The idea came from the administration initially, according to John Morin, Exercise, Physiology, and Wellness (EPW) teacher, but the EPW department volunteered to help plan as they have put on things like this before. “It wasn’t necessarily the goal of ours as the EPW department. It was an administrative goal to try to have an opportunity to come to the building, be with each other, be at school, and have that feeling of being at school and interacting with others,” said Morin.
Students came to the high school in two groups of 100, and were divided by advisories. Each group was there for two hours of interactive activities that allowed the students to get to know their advisories and some teachers. Victoria Sickler, Exercise, Physiology, and Wellness (EPW) teacher, described the day, and its purpose. “All of the freshmen came in for some social-emotional learning activities to let us get to know them a little bit better, to hopefully have them work on their cooperation, teamwork, and to get to know each other and their advisor better. They’re all activities that we worked on so that they were safe for kids and for advisors to be together but distanced.”
To begin the day, students participated in large group activities, then did some name recognition activities within their advisories. There were numerous other activities that the advisories did throughout the day. Some were in a larger group, and some they broke out into smaller groups for. “Most of the activities were adventure based activities, where there is teamwork and creativity required, and maybe some communication required so they could come up with strategies and then pull off an attempt,” shared Morin.
This event was important for the freshmen class because, aside from freshmen orientation, they hadn’t been to the high school, or seen their peers and advisors. “Of all of the kids in our school, these are the kids who don’t have a direct connection to adults here in the high school. Most of the other grades have seen the adults, if not had them in class. This incoming class is really at a bit of a disadvantage not having the personal, face-to-face, so we thought that was really important,” said Milliken.
Alja Forcey-Rodriguez (‘24) agreed with Milliken. She said, “it has definitely been hard not to be able to see teachers. Especially since, while the other grades know the high school and know the teachers, we have never met them in person.”
Ian Hricz (‘24) also felt this event was important, and said, “high school is supposed to be one of the most social periods of your life. We should be able to talk to friends and each other about problems going on in our lives.”
Many saw this event as a success. Cathi Stetson, Computer Science teacher who has a freshman advisory this year, said, “I do [think this event was successful], we had a lot of great team building exercises, and it was just fun. It was low stakes and didn’t matter who won. I saw a lot of great communication with some of my students. Even the quieter ones got into it. We had a good time.”
Additionally, students were engaged across the board, and had fun with one another. “The best part about the day was that I think my advisory bonded over some of the activities. We had to do that passing the hula hoop game, and my advisory took the longest out of anyone else, but we were laughing the whole time,” said Forcey-Rodriguez.
As another example, Stetson said that “there was a new friendship found. Two of my students, one went to Barrington and one went to ORMS, and they became friends. It was fun to see them together.”
Students also complied with mask wearing and social distancing. According to Morin and Sickler, although this was an in-person event, appropriate safety measures were taken. Everyone in attendance was required to wear a mask and be socially distant for the entire duration of the program, and hand sanitizer was available to all.
The EPW department modified typical activities to make sure that everyone was able to maintain a safe distance. For example, a typical team bonding game is that everyone holds hands to make a circle, and without breaking the circle, participants have to maneuver a hula hoop around the entire circle. This activity was modified, and instead of everyone holding hands, they held a rope and were six feet apart. The advisory groups were each separated from one another, and the entire field was used for the program.
While this event was definitely enjoyable for students, some also felt that it was more so just a day to get together, and less about forming the initial connections. “It was definitely important for us to get together with our advisories, but over a month into the year it seems a little bit late for that. We’ve already had quite a couple meetings and gotten to know each other,” said Forcey-Rodriguez. She also said, “I think it may have been better if it had been something like a day where we get to meet all of our teachers or something. Although, it was important because we got to see our advisories in person and also get to know each other better.”
In the future, Hricz hopes to be able to talk to more of the freshman class at other programs like this, he said, “we never really got the chance to talk to other kids. We just mainly talked to our advisory, so I think that if we were able to talk to most of the freshman, it would have been better.”
Nothing is set in stone, but based on the success of the event, ORHS hopes to put on activities like this again in the future. Milliken said, “today was a good model for what we can possibly try out with other grades. We don’t have plans right now, but that’s all stuff that’s on the table […] We just keep looking at ways to have more people come safely to the school, and today was a great step.”
Photos by Mark Milliken