The freshman experience

I wanted an image of something where you would think it’s daunting in the beginning, but once you get in the middle of things it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But it has that climbing a mountain thing working for it, which also applies.

Isn’t it funny how things seem more intimidating on that first day but then become less imposing as you become more acquainted with it, whatever “it” happens to be?

This high school seemed huge when I came over a few years earlier for my brother’s orientation. Some classrooms had two doors, so we’d enter through one and out the other on the guided tour. I guess that coupled with the route we took made it seem like the school was bigger than it really was and that it was possible to get lost in it, at least to a sixth-grader. But in reality, the school was one long hall with two small hallways branching off.

Ah, the power of perspective!

As a freshman, when it came time to find the right rooms, it wasn’t too difficult. They were numbered above the doorway. And considering the entire master schedule for the school could fit on one side of an 8 x 11 paper, it was easy to at least recognize the faces of teachers and get familiar with who taught which subjects.

Regardless of how small the school was, we still had nearly 290 students. That’s a lot of people to cram their way through a narrow hallway. We were’t immune to the aggravations of students, mostly the hazards of freshmen, who blocked access to the rest of the hall as they retrieved items from lockers and socialized. (The freshman class will always be blamed for this problem.)

Vroom vroom!
To get to school, I took the bus. My church and the participating families financed the transportation to make the 40 minute or so commute more accessible. Now, some families still opted for carpooling, but I took the bus. The pick up spot on our side of town was in a nearby shopping center parking lot, about 5 minutes away.

The bus wasn’t the same raucous experience as public school, mostly because it was much smaller and with fewer people. But also because after 10 minutes of talking, many students opted for an extra nap on the commute.

Sleeping on the bus wasn’t an option for me. But I did talk to a friend or used the time to study. I don’t think I often left homework for the bus because my handwriting was bad enough without competing against the bumps and vibrations of travel.

The big question of high school was how challenging would my classes be? I finished eighth grade with decent grades and things were improving, but did that mean I was ready for an honors level or a regular class? How accelerated would the curriculum be? Private schools were supposed to be more rigorous and demanding.

I believe new students were required to take a placement test before registering for classes. I don’t remember officially where I landed, but I apparently had the option to take regular or honors English, at least. I opted against honors levels for my first year.

I took French 1 this year. In some ways it was a repeat of what I had been introduced to during sixth grade, but who really remembers all of that? I could handle learning a bunch of vocabulary words and going over basic verb conjugations. We wrote basic sentences in French and practiced speaking French, but nothing too challenging. For one classmate who sat next to me, though, I was the go-to girl for explaining French assignments.

Proud science moment
We had a group project or it was at least a situation where you had to pair up. No one rushed to work with me, so I was partnered with someone else who found herself in the same situation. Or it might have been a case where I didn’t know who to ask.

I believe we had to find ways of demonstrating different principles of physical science. I was quite proud of my idea for showing how changing the form or appearance of something doesn’t change its content or composition. A popular explanation is that tearing a dollar bill in half changes the form or the look but it still functions as currency.

So we had a boombox in the room. I “played” a CD, meaning I just turned on the radio. Then I “stopped” things, took out the CD and broke it in half, put it back in the player and it still “played” music. The CD was one of those AOL trial subscriptions that everyone got in the mail, on a weekly basis it seemed.

Maybe I should have gone into movies with such classy special effects skills. Just kidding.

I’m not saying this was a realistic example, that a broken CD would continue to play. But it earned the reaction I was hoping for: surprise and shock from classmates when I broke the disc. It was at least a satisfying moment. And it shows some creativity.

A is for … accomplishments and aggravation
That first year, I pulled straight A’s. I had never done that before and it was surprising to accomplish it in ninth grade. I remember getting a letter at the end of the year saying I was currently ranked in the top 10% of the class. And maybe it was that note that made more of an impact than it should, I don’t know, but that accomplishment wasn’t met with the right kind of celebration.

It wasn’t a feat where I acknowledged that hard work was paying off, that I was able to focus better and study and perform better on tests. No, it was more that a new standard had been put in place. I’ve made these grades before, I should be able to keep them up. And while it’s great to have standards and to set goals for yourself, they also need to be realistic. And as high school classes get more advanced and challenging, it’s not realistic to expect that you will perform equally as well as you did in ninth grade. Putting that kind of pressure on yourself is harmful.

A better approach would have been to take each new class on its own and to gauge how well I was able to adapt. Then set individual goals for those classes. Instead, I considered them all equal, and set myself up with unrealistic goals. And, let’s face it, that’s just begging for increased aggravation. (Setting realistic goals has been a constant struggle for me.)



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