The lines of incoming junior high students and parents anxiously awaiting their new schedules stretched long outside the auditorium on Monday, Aug. 31. The new seventh graders and their families were there to hear words of advice from Principal Tom Averill and get the lay of the land in the big building that was new to many.
Making the leap from one of the four elementary schools in the district to a single building housing all of Saugerties’ seventh through twelfth grade population can be intimidating. While entering the auditorium, students commented to their friends about the size of their new school. “This building has like five entrances!” one exclaimed, with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
To help students navigate this new environment, parents could be found giving their children tips while walking through the halls. After pointing out the location of her son’s science class, one mom advised, “Find a friend with a locker near here so you can keep your books close.”
The district does its part to help them get used to the new building, allowing them the first day in the school by themselves. While eighth through twelfth graders are only in school for the morning on the first day, seventh graders come in the afternoon when the rest of the building is empty. Principal Tom Averill told them they would have time to practice locking and unlocking their lockers and walking between classes.
Guidance counselor Kristina Kaisik says these basics are the biggest concerns in the first few days. They learn to navigate the building and lockers after the first week or so.
Then other concerns manifest. Frequently friendships change when teens enter the junior high, and often they are not prepared for it. Sometimes it’s because friends aren’t in classes together any longer, and sometimes it’s because interests change.
It was hard to imagine that in the auditorium that evening, when kids were excitedly comparing schedules and shouting to one another, “Which team are you on?”
That’s how the junior high operates, with students on one of two teams of teachers. Averill explained to parents that each team meets daily, and he encouraged parents to call during that scheduled team meeting time to discuss any concerns they might have. He stressed the importance of staying involved in their children’s lives, even as they try to help them become more independent.
Averill talked about keeping tabs on the use of social media, warning parents that they would notice their children’s phones get busy in the next few weeks. He urged parents to call as soon as they thought there was a problem, because when things go bad they do so quickly. Averill also encouraged parents to join the social media task force he was putting together, saying he’d love to have 50 or 75 members on it.
Kaisik says social media and cyberbullying are a concern. To alleviate the worry for parents, she says they need to know that there are ways to control access to social media, including apps that block certain sites and use during certain times.
She said if a student reports bullying, their name remains confidential, and that there is a strict no-retaliation policy. She also says teachers are very good about reporting any incidents they see.
Students didn’t mention bullying as a concern, but parents did. Tammy Warr Drost, whose son Cody begins seventh grade this year, says, “The biggest concern for me is that he continue to be a good kid and not let peer pressure influence his decisions.” She says she knows it is time for him to gain independence, though, “without mom being right over his shoulder.”
Katie Menon, whose son Oliver is an incoming seventh grader, says she hopes that the new independence will make “something click” and encourage him to be more mature.
Averill confirmed that parents would indeed see big changes, and joked that the seventh graders would think they were five years older, instead of only one.