Freshman Orientation: A Year of Gentle Transition (Transcript)
Joseph: At High Tech High School we have all races, ethnicities, sexual preferences in the building. Everybody is a family. That's the beauty of being in High Tech.
Louis: There's always a period of adjustment when kids change schools, but especially when they go from a grammar school into high school. Many of the kids are coming here without knowing other students, or at least not many other students as compared to if they remained in their neighborhood schools.
Joseph: To get in tune to the culture of the school, we have a school orientation class in freshman year.
Max: Freshman orientation was a bit scary actually, because I didn't know what to expect. I went to a small, tiny little charter school. It was a big jump, so there was like a lot more people here. I got sort of a glimpse of how everyone was inviting and everyone was sort of wanting to help me out.
Louis: I meet all of the freshmen once a week throughout the entire year. One of the things that I try to stress with our students is that we are a school of compassion. A lot of what I do in the guidance class is based upon that, enabling the kids to see different points of view, so people are accustomed to the diversity we have here. I start out the year basically with an exercise with them called the hot seat. On a voluntary basis, a kid will sit in the middle of a circle and the other students will have a chance to ask him anything they want. No questions that embarrass a person or make them feel uncomfortable, and the person in the middle has the right to not answer anything. I try to talk to them about their individual responsibility, about everything from teen pregnancy and STDs to the bullying and the racism. I spend a good deal of time dealing with how does peer pressure affect us? Some of the kids are more shy, they don't talk as much in the beginning. So as I get to know them over the whole year, I get a chance to find out what the difficulties are they may have.
Chazz: I was an eighth grader, a short little chubby kid came in and didn't know what to expect. Everything was so new, people were just much bigger than me. It was overwhelming, and then once I came in my freshman year, it was really nice just having that, I guess, backbone of the community in the classroom.
Louis: I had to listen to it several other times and it's not an easy story.
We talk about racism that has existed in our society, does racism still exist, where do we see it?
Why is he so passionate about this, yes?
Student: He has to say something and stand up for his culture and his race because he feels that nothing is being said about it.
Louis: I do some exercises, break the kids down into small groups. They discuss, come up with their solution and then we return to a large group, get an idea what other people think and where their opinions are coming from.
Student: It wasn't equal for everyone to have their own opinion, so I think it's kind of like a wound that was opened and never closed.
Louis: In our class, they might find out some things they might not talk about in other classes. I try to keep it more informal, because it's not a graded class. It's just me and them and, you know, we're talking.
Do you think that's true?
Student: I think it depends on what person you're saying it to...
Louis: I think it gives them a chance at least to get to know me better. They know where I am and they know they can come and see me any time.
Joseph: The students get more involved in the culture of the school and I think as the students progress from freshman, to sophomore, junior, the senior year, they train the incoming students to make sure that that culture stays in place.