When the students returned to Nederland High School they were greeted by a gauntlet of teachers and students who welcomed them with smiles and handshakes.
Older students usually look forward to reuniting with their friends, seeing their favorite teachers, getting back on a schedule. Students entering a transition grade are less confident, not sure of what they will find in a new building with new teachers and older students.
Fifth graders heading to middle school will find a whole new way of going from class to class, having many teachers instead of one. They will join students that left elementary school and now have middle school experience. They need someone to answer their questions.
Eighth graders make the short physical journey but the long mental journey into high school. They are now on the bottom of the high school ladder. They could use a mentor to show them the way.
Nederland High School’s 360 Program went to work last Thursday. Eighth graders took the new sixth graders under their wings, sharing team-building and getting-to-know-each-other activities, and providing a guide service around the building. Upperclassmen put the freshman at ease, partnering the older students with the newcomers.
Matches are made by pairing older students with younger ones of like interests. Natasha Kinczel, one of the upperclass mentors, has two students who will be under her wing during the school year. She has been interested in music for much of her time in school. So Natasha is mentoring Hayley Turner and Hattie Bakke who are involved with the music and theater department.
“When I came into high school, having a mentor made me feel like I knew the upperclassmen more. It helped me break the ice,” Natasha said.
Program leader Lori Kinczel said the new students are psyched about their new adventure. She says the overall atmosphere is one of positive energy and eagerness for the new school year. “There is improvement of communication. Adam [Fels] is bringing a new energy to the school that is contagious.”
Principal Adam Fels embarks on his new position with an attitude of anticipation and eager acceptance of the challenges that face him. He has ambitious goals.
Principal Fels greeted parents and teachers and said hello to the various groups of students who gathered round to listen to his energetic encouragement for the year.
It didn’t take too much to get him talking about his goals for the future and his determination to become a well-managed school. He said having a line of teachers to greet the students was a way of empowering both the kids and the teachers. “When the teachers feel respect, they give respect back.”
Fels says he plans to increase expectations about achievement. He says it is the principal’s job to train teachers and to support their decisions.
“The first thing we need to do is get the parents and teachers to talk to each other. The teachers are the best ones to make decisions and with that, trust has to happen. By spring break I want a school that functions well when no one is looking, one that is filled with empathy and respect.”
Special Education teacher Scott Sanders was strolling the halls with a grin on his face, doing a happy little jig and finally pumping the air with both fists. He said, “After 23 years of teaching here, I am psyched, I feel like a kid again. The principal has pumped us up and we have new, young, excited teachers. The building is in better shape than ever and it smells fresh, and it feels fresh.”
Although the final count is not in, NHS enrollment is at 300, an increase from the last few years.