Hazel Pate, DSHA ’22, wasn’t anxious when she started classes at Divine Savior Holy Angels on Aug. 20th.
She was the only freshman from last year’s graduating eighth-grade class at the Milwaukee public middle school she’d attended previously. But she’d made new friends at DSHA before the new school year’s first bell even rang.
“I wasn’t nervous, which really never happens,” Pate said during her first high school lunch. “I’m always nervous for the first day of school.”
It helped that she — along with DSHA’s nearly 180 other new incoming freshmen — got a full day of orientation the week before school started. She toured the building, met her teachers and even learned chants and cheers at a pep rally-like celebration to ring in the new school year inside the DSHA gym.
The orientation activities — which also included several liturgies, including a Mass and prayer service — were aimed at making sure DSHA’s new crop of freshmen had a chance to familiarize themselves with their new academic digs before settling in for the year.
“It’s all fun. We don’t want to make it scary,” Emily Miller, a senior on the DSHA student council — and who spent the day in a penguin costume — said after helping teach her new classmates a bevy of cheers they’ll use at pep rallies and athletic events.
“When you don’t have this, it’s a feeling of unfamiliarity,” fellow senior, DSHA student council leader and penguin doppelganger Kelli Griffith added.
Pate said she’d gotten to know the school and her new classmates by participating in summertime activities, and noted the orientation activities went a long way in helping ease first-day jitters.
A few of her new classmates concurred, noting the orientation’s pep rally environment had a comforting effect.
“At first, I was a bit shy about it,” said Daisy Fregoso-Gonzalez, a freshman who said she was slow to join in with the chants and cheers that seniors led her classmates through during the orientation activities. “But, then I thought, I might as well do it.”
Another freshman, Maura Walsh, said she hadn’t felt very nervous before starting school, but that the orientation was still helpful. “I met some new people and I found where my classes were,” she said.
“It’s sort of a fun day,” said Lisa Metz, a DSHA theology teacher who helped lead the orientation. “We want the freshmen to have a comfortable day so that they can come on Monday feeling confident about what their day will look like."
And, if history is a clue, the orientation won’t just have served as a valuable ice-breaker for students starting their first day at DSHA; it’ll be something they remember well after they graduate.
“Freshman Orientation (or, when I was here, Freshman Fun Day) definitely stands out in my mind as a preview for the quirky, DSHA-specific experiences to come,” said Ann Duffy, a 2010 DSHA grad and now Alumnae Director for the school. “At what other school is it common for seniors to run around in 90s apparel, blasting Mariah Carey, with boatloads of taco dip and puppy chow, as a way to welcome freshmen to the school? It’s a fun way to facilitate new friendships and welcome Dashers to the sisterhood — both of which last longer than their four years of high school.”