What to know your freshman year at BHS: Finding community


As the annual cycle has it, Berkeley High School (BHS) has been hit with yet another wave of freshmen. Here is a population of students hailing from a wide range of pre-teen experiences, and, consequently, with varying abilities to tackle life in their newfound territory. 

The transition from middle to high school can be a daunting one, especially when the latter is an establishment that accommodates over 3,200 students. In some cases, finding a communal space can help ease the overwhelming nature of such a transition. Discovering these spaces constructs a foundation of interests that can be expanded upon in later years, creating new relationships and a better sense of individual enthusiasm. So how does one find these spaces?

“I had a lot of anxiety about doing ‘enough’ things, but once I got to BHS, I realized I just needed to hit the ground running and start participating in things that seemed interesting,” wrote Noah Rudolph, a sophomore in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), in an email. 

When he was looking for BHS happenings, Rudolph would refer to the Student Bulletin, a daily email about upcoming activities and initiatives sent to the student body by Director of Student Activities John Villavicencio. 

Villavicencio also organizes two club fairs a year, where clubs can set up shop and pitch their message to students during the school day. When the fairs aren’t in session, the master club list on the BHS website provides an updated description of club missions, meeting times and places, and their contact information. In addition, as the year progresses, these organizations will post their flyers in the hallways as they start up their activities.

“It’s easy when you’re overwhelmed to just go to what you know,” said Talia Antell-Proulx, a Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) senior, “but [extracurriculars are] such a big way to meet new people and to have some shared sense of community that you [might not] necessarily have in your classes.”

Antell-Proulx went to middle school at Willard, where she forged friendships that she would later sustain at BHS. Given the high school’s large size, she acclimated to having more individual friends than friend groups in freshman year. 

Some of her friends introduced her to what she still pursues today, such as the club, Beads for Good Deeds. After she discovered the club at the club fair, Antell-Proulx became a member and would go on to become the club’s treasurer, graduating to its president her senior year. Also in her freshman year, she joined the tennis team after learning about it through a friend, and is now one of its co-captains this year.

Berkeley International High School (BIHS) junior Andre Risz joined football during his freshman year as a way to meet people and exercise during the pandemic. Due to his isolated experience during school lockdowns, he wanted to branch out in the sport that had previously been a casual hobby.

For a similar reason, Arson Ormsby, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC), joined the cross country team before the start of his freshman year. Joining the team gave him an introduction to both the campus setting and other BHS students. Later on, he would join club soccer and the BHS baseball team.

That same year, Ormsby ran for sophomore vice president, where he would campaign during classes, meeting many “great people” through classroom presentations and in student government.

Antell-Proulx also got involved in student leadership early on in her high school career as class deputy which led to her being a part of CAS leadership her junior and senior year. In the program, she helps organize different events for CAS students, including retreats, welcome assemblies, talent shows, and a mixer.

During the later part of freshman year when students rank which Small Learning Community (SLC) they want to attend for the next three years, the SLC presentations helped Antell-Proulx determine that she wanted to attend CAS because of the sense of community it offered. 

Universal ninth grade (U9) classes also prove to be a great opportunity to network with potentially future classmates before they diverge into more specialized SLCs.

“As a freshman, I really took advantage of that clean slate type of mentality … you get to find yourself in the process,” Ormsby said. “You can find your people and it’s such a big school that you’re not really stuck with the same people in every single class the whole day. You are able to roam and to really find your own community.”