by Sarah Feinberg, Ella Moses & Jocelyn Wu
photo by Hedi Skali
This school year has been particularly challenging for freshmen, who are new to the South community. Freshman Raina Bornstein said that the transition to high school has been difficult.
“I was definitely very confused and nervous,” she said. “Being a freshman and going into high school is a nerve-racking thing on its own. Combining that with the fact that nobody really knew what they were doing and this had never been done before didn’t help.”
Freshman class president Kevin Yang said that he wishes the administration had placed more emphasis on building community.
“I barely know anyone in the grade that’s not from Brown,” he said.
Alo Mukerji, a freshman parent, said that she had hoped for more opportunities for her daughter to make new connections at the beginning of the year.
“I feel like we’re in a holding pattern where she’s just getting educated, but I don’t feel much of a sense of community around it,” she said. “I wish there had been some safe alternatives in the very beginning of the year where they had a little bit of an opportunity to meet people in person before they went all remote.”
In an effort to counteract the general feeling of alienation and lack of community among freshmen, the administration hosted split freshmen orientations on Jan. 20 and 27, with the class split evenly between the two events. English teacher and freshmen advisor Alan Reinstein said that the orientations were a step in the right direction.
“It’s one thing that could make students feel that they’re being welcomed into the school community,” he said. “The teachers care and want them to have something of a positive opening, so they can start to feel comfortable in the school building.”
Although she said it was helpful to get a taste of the school building, freshman Naomi Weitzman said that she wishes there were more social opportunities during the orientation.
“The time slots were a little bit short,” she said. “Having more icebreakers would have definitely been helpful.”
Despite limited official orientation activities, Weiztman said that her teachers have worked to build class communities remotely.
“Most of my teachers have been very inclusive, and at the beginning of most of my classes they did a lot of icebreakers and activities to get to know each other,” she said.
Reinstein said that he understands the frustration felt by freshmen.
“They really have lost that kind of the central piece of the high school experience — not having gotten to know what that busy hallway is like, seeing seniors in the hallway,” he said.
Freshman Hazel Chang, who went to a private middle school, said that fostering friendships online has been difficult.
“When you’re in a breakout room with other people, it’s really awkward,” she said. “It’s not really making friends, it’s kind of just talking to them.”
Weitzman said that the return to in-person learning is an opportunity she is excited to take advantage of to help establish a stronger community.
Kaplan said the orientation helped her get to know South better.
“It was a fun experience because we got to come to the new school for the first time and meet people and see where our classes are,” she said.
Reinstein said he hopes that freshmen feel that the orientation is just one example of the school’s efforts to make freshmen feel at home.
“I know it’s not perfect, but it’s something — it’s a way of getting students into the building and figuring out how to get from one class to the other,” he said. “Students are still nervous, and I think they’re getting the message that the administration and teachers really want to support them.”