COMMUNITY: “The freshman question”

 

Melissa Perello (9, J&C) comments on the unique difficulties of one’s first year as a Manual High School student.

The difficulty of juggling a jam-packed schedule—between dealing with one’s teachers, completing homework, maintaining a healthy social life, fulfilling family responsibilities, and participating in extracurriculars—is one certainly familiar to all Manual students. Many assume that this pressure only grows over time, from one’s laid back freshman year to the stress of senior year’s college applications and difficult courses. Most people, however, may not fully understand the distinct challenges facing students in the ninth grade. Often heard are the sneers and jabs directed at “newbie freshmen” who aren’t yet accustomed to Manual’s culture and who have not yet grown into their own. Though I understand the natural tendency to casually disparage those in younger grades, dismissal of freshmen’s unique difficulties serves only to make a very stressful time of transition even more trying.

As a first-year high school student, even the simplest of tasks can be daunting. There’s nothing more terrifying, for instance, than one’s first time walking through the crowded halls between classes. A four year age difference between Manual’s youngest and oldest students may not seem very intimidating, but when you’re stuck in the hallway next to several pushy seniors who are nearly twice your size, the gap is particularly evident. The school building itself can be initially unnerving as well. During my first few months of high school, I had challenges transitioning from class to class on time, struggling to remember my way around the halls and identify my classrooms through the seemingly endless sea of students. These setbacks might appear trivial, but freshmen are confronted with thousands of these small obstacles every day during their adjustment into high school, and one bad experience getting pushed aside in the stairwell can be truly upsetting.

Once in class, ninth grade students are confronted with a host of additional difficulties. The majority of freshmen are not accustomed to the heavy workload Manual High School demands. Though I’ve observed that most of my peers are ready and excited to take on these new academic challenges (most students, after all, did make the voluntary choice to apply to Manual), we are all still in the process of finding our individual strategies for managing schoolwork. This requires developing skills such as time management and effective study habits that simply were never relevant at many middle schools. For the first time in my educational career, I’ve had to begin turning down social events with friends and family this year to tackle homework. This is a sacrifice I am willing to make, but one that I—along with other students in the freshman class—will take some time to become accustomed to.

Some challenges of starting high school are a bit less tangible. The freedom we are afforded as Manual students is a blessing, but it can be difficult for students from stricter backgrounds to adjust to this newfound flexibility. At my middle school, students could be assigned detentions for infractions as inconsequential as wearing two different colored socks. When I began high school, I was immediately exposed to a diverse group of new peers with highly variable circumstances and perspectives. The autonomy Manual provides its students causes this diversity to flourish even more, as freshmen begin to identify their interests and passions. This is certainly an exciting journey, but one that takes time and may require that younger students ping pong from activity to activity until they find what they truly enjoy.

As an incoming ninth grader, it can sometimes be difficult to see where one belongs. Finding one’s unique niche at Manual High School is a process that requires freshmen to undergo significant intellectual and emotional growth. All I ask is that upperclassmen respect younger students in this transitional portion of their lives—after all, everyone was, at some point in time, the new kid in school. Though the most jaded senior may not see what she has in common with a naïve freshman, all of us ultimately applied to Manual for similar reasons—because we are open-minded, because we are ambitious, and because we are excited about growing and maturing together during our four years at this school.

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James Miller is RedEye’s faculty adviser. This is Mr. Miller’s fifth year as staff adviser, 11th year at Manual, and 14th year as a JCPS teacher. In a previous life, he worked at WHAS-11 and the Courier-Journal.

1 COMMENT

  1. Wonderful perspective! As a mom and pediatrician, I wish everyone would keep in mind that high school, in general, but especially the first year, is so full of changes and possibilities – it can make all the difference to hear a supportive voice rather than a critical one.

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