Having the school to themselves makes a big difference for Newberg students entering middle and high school

Considering it can take new teachers weeks or months to figure out where everything is on Newberg High School's wide-spread campus, it's not a fun exercise to imagine how scary and intimidating it must it be for a 14-year-old freshman to find his or her classes on the first day of school with just five minutes of passing time.

NHS seniors Kyle Charbonneau, Carson Herrick, Ashley Korb-Doty and Casey Novak knew exactly what that felt like, which is why they immediately embraced the idea to limit the first day of the school year just to freshman when activities director Mark Brown brought it up to his leadership students last spring.SETH GORDON - Members of the Newberg High School class of 2021 learn some cheers at 'Freshman First Day' Sept. 5. The freshmen had the school to themselves to acclimate themselves to the building, meet their teachers and ask questions.

Thanks to a collective effort from about 50 returning students, the entire high school staff and several community partners, Newberg's Freshman First Day, along with equivalent opening days for sixth grade students at Chehalem Valley and Mountain View middle schools, seems to have hit the mark.

"It definitely felt like we were getting thrown in with the wolves because we didn't have anything like this," Herrick said. "I think it was really beneficial for them to make the transition a little easier."

In recent years, NHS has held a freshmen orientation the week prior to the first day of school, but because it wasn't mandatory and lasted just a few hours, it wasn't as helpful and attendance lagged at about 70 percent.

For Freshman First Day, students could spend about 30 minutes in each of their classes, with the rest of the high school staff and volunteer students strategically placed in the hallways to answer questions.

"In passing periods, almost every other kid was just handing us their schedule like, 'Where is this?'" Novak said. "That was a big part of it."

Thanks to a donation from the Newberg Booster Club, all incoming students also received a class of 2021 t-shirt and were treated to a free lunch from Jem 100, which was sponsored and served by members of Newberg Rotary.

"To pull off something as big as we pulled off and to really not have a dollar amount to worry about, that's so cool," Brown said. "It really allowed us to focus on just making it the most valuable day possible."

Students also attended an assembly where they received some advice from the seven seniors on the Associated Student Body leadership team, including Charbonneau, Herrick, Korb-Doty and Novak, and watched a film they prepared about this year's homecoming theme ("Hollywood") before finishing the day with a pep assembly in the gym.

"We really just wanted them to have a fun time on their first day," Charbonneau said. "It's not really school. It's more getting to know the teachers, know the school and just have a fun time while learning that high school isn't as bad as it sounds."

If freshman Vaibhav Brooks' experience is any indication, the event was a success.

"Having this extra day is just really nice," Brooks said. "I got all of my questions answered because we had so much time. It was really helpful."

Chehalem Valley principal Karen Pugsley was equally pleased with how her school welcomed sixth grade students to the building. That included CV's own version of "The Amazing Race," but mostly students and teachers used the time to get to know one another and improve the learning environment.

"One of our school improvement goals is connected to students feeling loved and having a special place in the school to grow and learn," Pugsley said. "This week, we took a giant step toward realizing that goal."

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