St. Mark’s High School freshmen meet up during the summer before school officially begins
MILLTOWN — High school can be an intimidating experience, particularly for freshmen coming in from various middle schools. But at St. Mark’s, the members of the Class of 2021 are already old friends.
Nearly all of the incoming students have met each other through the school’s annual Get Connected program, which takes a few days out of the summer to bring everyone together. Valerie Wright, an English teacher and sophomore class moderator, said Get Connected started in 2012 and has been a big hit.
“Right away, we saw them pulling out their cell phones and getting each other’s numbers, so they could get together during the summer,” she said.
“We wanted them to feel more connected to each other, to the school coming in.”
When it began, there were four sessions. The school found that students were eager to make all of them, but with other obligations it was not always possible. So they condensed it to two days.
“We’ve had upwards of 80, 85 percent of the incoming classes coming at least to one, if not both of the events,” said Wright, previously moderator of the freshman class. “They say that they already have made some of those connections, just being here and being silly, getting to know the school for a couple of hours.”
Tymere Scott has had his eye on St. Mark’s since fifth grade, he said. A graduate of Eastside Charter in Wilmington, he had a cousin who attended, and a visit to a Spartans football game was the clincher. He has been at St. Mark’s during the summer getting ready for football season, but Get Connected has allowed him to get to know his new classmates.
“It’s good knowing that you’re going to come to the first day of school knowing people and not have to be confused and feeling nervous or anything. I feel like everybody fits in. There’s no groups or anything,” Scott said.
His new classmate, Grace Dohl, is coming from St. John the Beloved School. There are several freshmen from St. John’s, she said, so she already has friends at St. Mark’s, but she’s looking forward to making new connections.
“I met some new people, but there are a lot of people I haven’t met yet,” she said.
The structure of the day is fairly simple. Students started both sessions with an icebreaker before getting into the meat of the day. The first session concentrated on athletics and the arts, while the second focused on academic activities and service.
During the August session, the incoming freshmen broke into groups and wandered the school on an academic scavenger hunt. Armed with an iPad, they visited classrooms, where volunteer students awaited to test their St. Mark’s knowledge.
In one class, the tablet was used to read a QR code, unlocking several questions about the school on the iPad. The newcomers had to answer multiple-choice questions about when St. Mark’s opened, the name of the mascot (Marcus) and what Marcus likes to eat. At another stop, the students learned about some of the computer apps they will be using in class.
After lunch, they participated in their first service activity at the school, making Christmas cards for the residents at Marydale, the retirement community in Newark. The kids will be able to find out later who received their card, Wright said.
St. Mark’s enrollment has dropped in recent years, and while that is a concern, principal Richard Bayhan said school spirit remains very high.
“The spirits are very, very high here. In fact, that’s one of the things that I find very frustrating because whether you’re talking about the incoming kids or you’re talking to the kids who are already here, they love this place. They’re passionate about this place. And, quite frankly, they make it what it is, which is a really special place,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this for well over 40 years, and there aren’t many student bodies I’ve worked with that are as great as this one.”
Wright said it’s exciting to see the newest Spartans connect with what is going on at St. Mark’s. She’s seen it firsthand from her own nephew.
“He’s kind a typical boy, but he went home from the last session and told his mom, without being prompted, ‘I had so much fun. I met people We had a great time.’ That just says a lot about these kids. They’re just so on board with what we’re doing here.”