Freshmen bond before school opens

Incoming students at Archbishop Spalding meet to get to know school, one another

August 26, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

On Friday morning, Zachary Taylor, 14, said he knew only a half-dozen other teenagers who were going to Archbishop Spalding High School.

By the end of a two-day retreat for freshmen at the co-ed Catholic school in Severn, he knew a lot more.

"It's really easy to make friends here," Zachary said.

For the past decade, Spalding has held a retreat for ninth-graders -- who come from dozens of middle schools throughout the area -- to acclimate them to a new environment. A few years ago, the school switched from an off-site event held mid-year to an event on campus at the start of the school year.

The goal is to give freshmen an opportunity to make social connections early on, said Principal Kathleen Mahar. Based on stories from teachers, guidance counselors and students, she said, it works.

"It is a tremendous bonding experience for them," Mahar said.

Students attended orientation Thursday in their school uniforms for a half-day trial run through their course schedules. On Friday, they returned for another half-day, which was full of games and sessions for students to share personal tidbits. School starts tomorrow.

Everyone had to wear their class T-shirt -- bright orange with "Class of '11" written in white on the back. The color brands the incoming class throughout its four years. Seniors are wearing green shirts, juniors have yellow and sophomores are the ones in blue. All wear their class T-shirts to homecoming, spirit week, field days and other big events.

In one of the icebreaker sessions, students met with the longest-serving teacher at the school, Bert Kiessling. Each student had to give their name, hometown, the last book they read or movie they saw, and where they would rather be. Students shyly offered the information while a handful of upperclassmen tried to prod the discussion by suggesting other books or asking follow-up questions.

Kiessling, who came to Spalding to teach religion in 1975, asked the freshmen if any of their parents had gone to Spalding. A couple of hands went up. Judeth Lucas, 14, of Annapolis noted that her mother Bonnie Rounds Lucas graduated in 1978. Kiessling asked Judeth to tell her mother that he remembered her dressing up as half of the Starsky and Hutch duo for spirit week one year.

Judeth was as impressed with Kiessling's memory as she was with the rest of the day's events. Because of the retreat, she made a new friend.

"It think it was actually really helpful because you get to meet new people," Judeth said. "It doesn't make you as nervous."

Kiessling said the retreat is as much for teachers as it is for students, allowing them to identify teenagers who might try to isolate themselves.

"A day like this gives you an opportunity to start looking for those kids," Kiessling said.

The tug-of-war was a big hit with Shelley White, 14, of Baltimore. He said it was a good way to get to know the other guys.

"It was fun and everybody laughed," he said.

In the gym, two small teams of incoming freshmen listened to teachers giving complicated instructions for a relay race. Each student had to sprint back and forth to colored markers, roll a tennis ball to a hula hoop and go through a number of other obstacles before the next racer could start. The freshmen moved so fast that some of them slid on the newly polished floor.

At the end of the day, the freshmen class had a pizza lunch and a short pep rally. Shaquilla Curtis, 13, said she initially was nervous about coming to the retreat, but the breakout sessions helped her realize that the other freshmen were just like her.

"It was better than what I thought it was," Shaquilla said. "It's just like [you feel] you're not the only one."

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