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Orientations Prepare Students for In-Person School Year

Orientation week kicked off the school year, providing make-up tours for sophomores who didn’t have an in-person freshman orientation due to the pandemic, and offering an in-person welcome to the new Berkeley High School (BHS) freshmen.

Sophomores were taken on optional tours last Wednesday by upperclassmen volunteers during orientation. 

Link leaders — upperclassmen who lead freshman orientation and offer support to freshmen — led introductions, games, icebreakers, and campus tours on Friday, August 13. 

Link leaders Chloe Burke, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) and Hanim Nuru, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), said that while most sophomores didn’t go on a tour, those who did benefited from it. 

Particularly for sophomores who didn’t do hybrid learning last year, Burke and Nuru wanted to provide an opportunity to learn the campus layout. 

Aubrielle Delane, a sophomore in Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), said the tour helped her prepare for locating her classes on the first day of school.

“I haven’t been on campus more than maybe two times,” she said. “I know the school is really big, and I need to know where to go for all my classes. I really wanted to have more of a feel for the school.”

Donovan Rudy Watson Martin, a sophomore in Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA), also wanted to learn his way around campus after spending his freshman year entirely online.

“I didn’t do hybrid [learning] in ninth grade and I have a bad history of walking into the wrong first period, so I wanted to get it all down before school started,” he said.

Freshman orientation used to start in the Donahue Gym, with all incoming freshmen together at once. This year, tours started on the football field with staggered, smaller groups throughout the day. Students were greeted by a balloon arch and an upbeat playlist. 

Director of Student Activities John Villavicencio led a musical game with ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ and Simon Says before sending groups of three to four freshmen off to tour the school under the guidance of two link leaders.

As they would any other year, link leaders answered questions and pointed out buildings, classrooms, and resources such as the College and Career Center (CCC) and Health Center. They also shared “things every freshman should know,” as well as tips and advice they wish they had known before starting high school. Burke also wanted to introduce students to the school culture.

“I wanted them to get a little feel for it by explaining traditions like Rally Day, so they aren’t shocked when they see it,” she said. “Or the A-Building and how it used to be creepy before they renovated it.”

Emily Sidharta, a link leader and senior in AMPS, said many freshmen in her groups had concerns about starting school after being in distance learning for the last 18 months.

“They were nervous about school because they haven’t really been since seventh grade. … [And] they were a little intimidated because we are such a big school,” she said. 

However, she noted students seemed more comfortable after the tour than when they arrived.

“They were super quiet at first, but once we did one or two activities, they really warmed up to us,” she said. “They were more talkative and had questions, and they really engaged on the tour we did.”

Brandon Nelson, an incoming freshman, came out of orientation with mixed feelings about starting high school.

“There’s gonna be a lot more people,” he said. “That’s what I’m nervous about. I’m also kinda excited because I’m gonna be able to make some new friends.”

In 2020, freshman orientation was online without the typical tour. Nuru said that, while the online format was necessary under pandemic conditions, it wasn’t as effective as in-person orientation.

“You would talk with them on Google Meet and try to connect with them,” she explained. [But] it wasn’t really helpful because students aren’t really active online.”

Burke, Nuru, and Sidharta wanted incoming freshmen and sophomores to leave the tours feeling more prepared and less anxious for what will be for many the first day of school.

“Don’t be afraid of anyone,” Nuru advised before adding that, “This is just school, you’re stuck in a room with 30 people and you make friends. That’s how easy it is.”

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