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Sixth-graders, freshmen acclimate with orientation

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By Reece Murphy

New schools, new rules, new expectations; top of the food chain one year, small fry the next; no idea where to go, how to act, what to expect.

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Sixth- and ninth-graders have a lot more in common than you’d think on the first day of school.

That’s why hundreds of Lancaster County students in those grades have something else in common: orientation day.

While the rest of the Lancaster County School District’s 11,000 or so students won’t start school until tomorrow, Aug. 19, the county’s incoming middle schoolers and high school freshmen spent half a day Friday, Aug. 16, getting used to their new surroundings.

The day was especially good for students such as Indian Land High School freshman Dominic Fusco, a new student in a whole new community.

“I just moved here from Rock Hill,” Fusco said. “I’m a little nervous, but it’s OK. I’ve already made a couple of friends. I’m looking forward to a good ninth grade.”

Leaning against the wall at the end of the freshman hallway taking in the controlled chaos of class change and letting his presence be known, ILHS principal David Shamble said so far the day had gone well.

For Shamble and other principals, the day was as much about making sure students knew what was expected of them.

Like many of the other principals across the county, Shamble met his newest students in the gym first thing Friday morning. Shamble introduced himself and gently, yet firmly, laid down the law.

“I just told them ‘You’ve been in school nine years now, you know how to act,’” Shamble said. “They all understand by now what they need to do to be successful.

“Now, as teachers, and educators, and parents, we just need to remind them sometimes – and some need reminding more than others,” he said. “But they’ll do fine. They’re good kids, really. They’ll do just fine.”

At Buford Middle School, 140 sixth-graders spent most of the morning learning soon-to-be mundane information: the location of homerooms and lockers, how to walk in orderly hallway lines, their new schedules and teachers’ names.

Later Friday morning, the students gathered in the lunchroom for a special hot dog lunch. The mood was bright, much more relaxed than it would be come Monday, as the students caught up with elementary school friends and cut up with their new teachers.

New sixth-graders Savanna Massey and Chianne Ellis said they couldn’t wait for middle school, talking over each other as “BFFs” tend to do.

Chianne: “It’s fun ...”

Savanna: “Exciting ...”

Chianne: “... we get lockers ...”

Savanna: “... and have dances ...”

Chianne: “... and seventh- and eight-grade boys. They’re really cute!” Savanna, nods vigorously.

Standing over by the cafeteria entrance with a group of her teachers BMS Principal Sheri Wells said orientation day is a special time for both teachers and students, a chance to take it easy and get acquainted with each other before Monday’s onslaught.

By then, Wells said, it’ll be time for the sixth-graders to get down to business and focus on learning, which means Chianne and Savanna are going to be sorely disappointed.

“This gives them a day by themselves so they can get to know the school and their surroundings without the seventh and eight-graders around,” Wells said. “Once the other kids get here, the sixth-graders turn a little timid.

“They’ll settle down in about a month, though. They’ll be over in the sixth-grade hall by themselves and won’t even cross paths with seventh and eighth-graders,” she said.

Lancaster County School District Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Phipps said sixth- and ninth-grade orientation started in the district when he was a middle school teacher at Barr Street about 15 years ago.

He said the program was successful then, and he believes it remains so today.

“We do it for the students,” Phipps said. “The whole thing is students centered and it helps the transition process to make sure everything is smooth and the students are comfortable on the first day of school.

“And for teachers it’s kind of a laid back day, a little more relaxed,” he said. “I miss it.”

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151