Back to School: Falmouth High School revamps orientation

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FALMOUTH — Freshman orientation at Falmouth High School used to be all about logistics, and it was boring and adult-driven.

But this school year, “we’ve moved away from the nuts and bolts and student ambassadors will be running the show to create a more engaging and hands-on experience,” said Tammy Heathco, a guidance counselor at the high school who took the lead on revamping orientation.

Another change as the new school year approaches is the addition of a new school resource officer to serve the elementary and middle schools. 

Freshmen report to the high school on Sept. 4, but instead of being overwhelmed with details, “they’ll get an idea of what the school culture is really like,” Heathco said. “They’ll get real-life help from upperclassmen and learn how it all works, from the lunchroom to their lockers.”

In addition, she said the day would be focused on both structured and unstructured play to give incoming freshmen a chance to begin building relationships with each other, the student ambassadors and faculty members.

Heathco said many of the planned events will incorporate what she called “mindful play,” but there will also be an ice cream social and a chance to play fun outdoor games like corn hole and ladder ball.

“We’re encouraging teachers to meet their students outside of the classroom setting and to begin having conversations,” such as asking the students about themselves and their interests and hobbies, she said.

Heathco said it’s important to have a day when the freshmen can “make the school theirs.” Holding an orientation event also makes entering high school a little less confusing and overwhelming, she said.

“Whether a student is new to the district or just new to the high school, they’re feeling a range of emotions from excitement to nervousness and anxiety. That’s why we thought changing up orientation would make it easier for them to ask for help, support and advice.”

“This is not just a one-day focus,” Heathco said. “What we’re trying to do is lay the groundwork for ongoing relationships and for building confidence. Some of the biggest anxieties freshmen have is about bathrooms and lunch.”

“Our student ambassadors are super-excited” to welcome the freshmen and are eager to help them adjust to life at the high school, she added.

“Our school culture is really very welcoming and friendly, but there’s also an intensity and rigor here, even with the extra-curriculars, so it’s important to lay the groundwork for building relationships early on.”

“What we’re ultimately trying to do,” Heathco said, “is foster a kind, supportive school culture where students make personal connections with each other and adults in the building.”

Heathco said orientation would start with a musical performance and would also include a scavenger hunt and a video montage that would include photos and videos taken throughout the day, all of which were student ambassador-generated ideas.

“Orientation is now going to be all about kids teaching kids,” she said. “We’re lucky to have a school principal that’s super student-friendly and relationship-oriented and is open to creating that vibe from Day 1. We’re looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.”

And, among other new staff in the school district is the addition of a second school resource officer, who will be responsible for the middle and elementary schools.

Officer Jeff Smith has 13 years of experience as a school resource officer in Windham, and Falmouth Police Chief Ed Tolan said he’s been “an excellent addition. Jeff has hit the ground running and he’s going to be just great.”

In addition, the athletic department at the high school also went through a significant renovation over the summer, according to Athletic Director James Coffey.

The athletic office and the weight room have been updated and expanded, and the gym floor has been completely refurbished with a new paint scheme.

School in Falmouth starts on Sept. 4 for students in grades 1-9. Students in kindergarten and grades 10-12 will report Sept. 5.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Freshman orientation at Falmouth High School is Sept. 4. Students in grades 10-12 report on Sept. 5.

The Athletic Department at Falmouth High School saw several renovations over the summer, including a complete refurbishing of the gym floor.

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