STONINGTON — Wearing matching powder-blue T-shirts emblazoned with “Link Crew,” students in the class of 2022 raised their hands in unison and cheered as their journey into high school began Thursday morning in the Stonington High School gym.
Wearing an identical T-shirt and wielding a microphone, Manny MacDonald, who is the assistant athletic director, welcomed the 159 new students who packed the gym bleachers.
“The expectations are different in high school, and we’re here to help you prepare for where you want to go and who you want to be,” he said.
The program was freshman orientation, which began at 8 a.m., slightly later than the 7:30 a.m. start time students will adhere to when school officially opens next week.
MacDonald encouraged students from Mystic Middle School and Pawcatuck Middle School to get to know one another.
“Today is going to be the first day you’re going to be able to interact with each other because you’re coming from two middle schools,” he said.
When he asked students to hold up their cell phones, 159 Androids and iPhones were held aloft.
“We’re going to ask you to do something you might not have done for a long, long time: Turn your phone off,” MacDonald said, with an expression of mock horror on his face. “We’re going to learn people’s names and we’re going to talk about things, so it’s important that you keep your phones in your pockets with the power off.”
Leading the orientation with MacDonald were social studies teachers Patrick McCarney and Ann-Marie Houle.
Taking the microphone from MacDonald, McCarney encouraged students to engage socially and participate in high school activities rather than sit on the sidelines.
“You have four years to make new friends. You have four years to write the next chapter of your life,” he said. “Don’t be part of the ‘what happened?’ group in four years.”
He also emphasized the importance of having a support system throughout high school.
“It could be a coach, an advisor, friends, teammates, your parents,” he said.
One support will be the “crew” of juniors and seniors clad in “Link Crew” T-shirts who were sitting among the freshmen in the bleachers. The “crew” is a group of volunteers who will “link” the freshmen to the Stonington High School experience and support them all year.
After they thundered down the bleachers, the freshmen were split into groups led by their link crew leaders who gave tours of the school.
While the freshmen were moving through their orientation activities, their parents were being briefed in the cafeteria commons by Principal Mark Friese, assistant principal Neal Curland and Director of Guidance and Student Services Margo Crowley.
Curland told parents about the school’s new lockdown procedures and this year’s emphasis on students taking responsibility for their digital footprint. The administration’s goal is to have a drug-free high school this year, he said.
The high school website’s “parent” tab also has a new “social issues” tab that links to topics such as social media parenting control, dangers of social media, mental health, and teen dating, among others. The website’s “student” tab also has a “social issues” tab with newly enhanced features for reporting safety concerns, Curland said.
As their parents sat and listened in the cafeteria, groups of freshmen led by their link crew mentors could be seen touring the building.
Stopping near the vending machines, freshman Maddie Mendez, who attended Mystic Middle School, said she had met some new people during the morning activities and that she had visited the high school before.
“It’s good, it’s exciting,” she said. “I kind of know my way around.”
Owen Phelan, who attended Pawcatuck Middle School, said he was enjoying the orientation overall.
“It’s going pretty good,” he said. “I’m meeting new people and making some new friends and I got most of the classes I wanted, so that’s really good.”
Katie Johnstone, who attended Mystic, said she was looking forward to the challenges high school would bring.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking but I’m excited because I’m going to meet new people,” she said. “It’s good, you need to take some risks in high school and try new things.”