ReCONNECTing with freshmen post-COVID

ReCONNECTing+with+freshmen+post-COVID

© HAWKEYE Shalom Abi

By Ritika Khanal, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Another school year has begun, and while the flurry of nerves and excitement are similar to any other year, the circumstances are not. After over a year of isolation, routines are changing, and for many, the first day of school will be their first time on campus.

These changes can be overwhelming, and Connect Crew is ready to help. Connect Crew is a student-led organization consisting of upperclassmen with the goal of helping freshmen transition into high school. Co-presidents Damaris Torres and Shalom Abi remember how much Connect Crew helped them in their freshman year, and they want to replicate that experience.

“Freshman year, I had Connect leaders that I really liked, and I thought they were really cool,” Torres said. “I was like, oh my gosh, I want to be like them when I’m a senior, and junior year, we didn’t really get to do that because of COVID, so I’m really excited for this year.”

Every year, Connect members are assigned to a freshman advisory period, where they are tasked with mentoring freshmen throughout the year. One of the Connect team’s most important responsibilities, however, is leading freshman orientation. According to Torres, this year’s freshman experience will be more individualized than ever.

“Because of COVID, we have it [orientation] split up into different cohorts, and it’s going to be more personalized. They’re going to be meeting their leaders in the beginning, and they are going to their advisory periods and meeting their teachers,” Torres said. 

In addition to making freshman orientation a more individualized experience, Connect Crew is planning to reach out to sophomores and other new students who may need help. After a year and a half of online learning, many sophomores are experiencing MTHS for the first time, just like the freshmen.

The welcoming approach that Connect Crew is adopting this year is similar to an approach that Edmonds Woodway High School has used previously. Instead of focusing their attention exclusively on freshmen, this model focuses on helping all new students.

“We’re actually incorporating Woodway’s welcoming committee to ours, so we’re actually going to be helping incoming freshmen, helping sophomores and then new students in general, which is also another new thing we’re adding to Connect this year,” Abi said.

The Connect Crew plans to be available throughout the school year. In addition to meeting Connect leaders at freshman orientation, students can expect to see leaders in their advisory period and during lunch.

“At lunch, we’re having tables that are designated for anyone who needs some place to sit or people to talk to,” Torres said.

Counselors will also be available to provide support this year. During lunch, counselors can be found in the hub, where students can ask questions or schedule a private appointment if needed.

“Due to COVID protocol, there cannot be drop-ins except in an emergency. Students can see the counseling secretary for an appointment or email their counselor requesting time to talk,” Counselor Amy Wiskerchen said.

Along with the guidance provided by the Connect Crew and counselors, PASS classes will also serve as aid for students that need it.

“We are also planning to offer support groups and are hoping to find enough empty rooms during PASS that we can each support groups of students with a myriad of issues on an on-going basis,” Wiskerchen said.

Help can also be found with classroom teachers. Everyone is aware of the importance of consistency and support, especially after a year and a half of isolation, and Wiskerchen is certain that teachers will adjust accordingly.

While the start of another school year in-person may indicate a sense of normality, school will be far from the same as it was before the shutdown in 2020. A lot can change after a year and a half, and students and staff alike must adjust.

“Just because we’re returning to in-person school doesn’t mean we’re returning to the way things used to be. Lots of people are still recovering physically, mentally and academically,” Wiskerchen said. “Many of us are struggling to remember how to do simple things and get caught up.  If you start to feel like you’re the only one having a hard time, reach out. I guarantee you aren’t the only one having a hard time.”

After so much time in front of computer screens, it can be hard to get into the routine of school, socializing and friends. However, the MTHS Hawks have always been known for their strong sense of community, and the Connect Crew hopes that students will take the time to reach out to one another and get to know each other.

“Don’t be afraid to talk to new people and do your best to be kind to everyone,” Torres said.

While resources like the Connect Crew and counselors are available to students, it can be difficult to identify when someone is struggling. Therefore, Abi, Torres and Wiskerchen all encourage students to ask for help when they need it and provide feedback.

“We haven’t quite figured out how to see all the students we need to see since we have to keep the foot traffic at a minimum in the Counseling Office, but we want to hear from students about what they need and how we can meet those needs most efficiently,” Wiskerchen said.

Abi conveyed a similar sentiment.

“Take it one step at a time, and know that there are other people that are willing to help you, that want to help you, so reach out to them if you need to,” she said.