September 7, 2011
Dryden puts added focus on freshmen
District begins new orientation program to acquaint students with demands of high school
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Dryden High School ninth-grader Jacob Yatsko runs a PowerPoint presentation in teacher Joseph Russo’s English class. Russo was instructing the freshmen on what is expected of them during their school year.
DRYDEN — The new ninth-graders at Dryden High School sat in their homerooms Tuesday morning and heard teachers talk about the next four years leading to life beyond the halls the freshmen were still learning to navigate.
Then they gathered in a cafeteria, all 130 of them, to hear a welcome from their class advisor, Michael Mangini. They heard about upcoming Spirit Week, clubs, yearbook and their upcoming class meetings to plan their own events.
Then it was time for lunch.
A cheer went up. Students sprang from their seats and headed for the lunch line, the boys leading the way.
Tuesday was the first day of school for Dryden’s grades kindergarten through nine, with the freshmen receiving an orientation to the senior high side of the combined middle and senior high school building.
Sophomores, juniors and seniors were to begin school today.
School also began Tuesday in the Groton, Moravia and DeRuyter school districts. The five districts in Cortland County started today.
The other nine grades in Dryden had regular classes while the freshmen had discussions of what high school is about, followed by 15-minute classroom sessions that let them figure out their schedules.
This was the first freshman orientation for the district, while other high schools in the area also had orientation sessions.
Teachers said it grew from a survey last year where freshmen said they felt lost, nervous and confused by the transition.
Chad Adams wore not just his own name tag but other students’ as well. A few of his buddies stuck their tags on his back and chest. He began to solicit more.
“It just happened,” he said, adding that students did not really need name tags since most of them had gone to eighth grade on the junior high side of the building.
“A lot of these guys live on streets near me,” Adams said, nodding to several boys sitting nearby. He said he lives in the village of Dryden.
He was asked if it was strange to hear the talk in homeroom about which courses he would take in the next four years and how he might prepare for college.
“Not really,” he said. “Most people get that talk. My dad talks about it all the time. I guess it’s getting pretty competitive in college and work.”
Principal Karen Rachetta said the orientation was an effort to mark ninth grade as more serious, to start emphasizing the skills students would need after graduation in 2015.
“A high school diploma is not going to be enough,” she said. “Employers will look for professionalism and work ethic, teamwork and collaboration, problem solving, written and oral skills.”
Freshman Jacob Yatsko said he knew his way around the senior high section already. He said the talk of the next four years was expected.
“It’s pretty different now, there’s a lot more responsibility,” he said, eating a lunch brought from home.
Freshmen gathered in knots, the boys slapping each other playfully, some students moving from group to group around the room.
Chris Bollinger sat with four other boys and five girls. He said he met them all last year, when he transferred from Homer Junior High.
He went to Barry Elementary School in Cortland before that.
He said he made friends easily.
At 11:22 a.m. the whole group left for their miniclasses, mostly in the G Wing, where teachers discussed what was expected for behavior and homework, and what the classes were about.
Bollinger and Yatsko went to teacher Joseph Russo’s English 9 class in G-18, where the 22-year veteran talked about being on time, turning work in on time, treating each other with respect and valuing diversity, among other topics.
Mary Sadonis, the special education teacher who will work with Russo this year, discussed the need to turn off cell phones during class.
Russo had just begun reviewing the syllabus when the buzzer rang for the change of classes. He said he would review it next time.
Rachetta said the idea was to launch the school year in a more positive way than her college president at St. John Fisher did with her college freshman class, in the fall of 1990.
She said she chose a different message when the Dryden freshmen gathered in the school auditorium to start the day.
“He said to look to the right and left, because someone would not be there four years from now,” she remembered. “He meant people leave for different reasons. I thought how terrible, what a grim message. I looked right and left and said, ‘See you in four years.’ I told these students to do that.”
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