As a freshman, the first day of high school can be intimidating and confusing, but at all Waukesha high schools, the Freshman First Day helps new high-schoolers feel comfortable and welcome before the school year even begins.

Freshman First Day is an optional program that starts the day or two before school. Ranging from a few hours to a full school day, the program helps the newcomers find their way to classes and their lockers and also includes team-building activities with mentors.

"I was absolutely terrified – on the way here I was crying," said Christine Albers, a mentor at West High School. "The mentors made me feel really comfortable, and I got to know people I had classes with."

Mentors' roles

The mentors are sophomores, juniors and seniors who volunteer to help organize and run the event, as well as mentor freshman for the day by giving them an idea of what high school is like and making the transition from middle school to high school easier.

Mercedes Webb, another West helper and president of the mentor program, said that mentors want freshman to feel like they have friends coming into school and someone they can go to with questions.

The freshman at all three schools were engaged in a variety of activities and were happy to have a day with just their classmates and mentors to get themselves prepared.

"It really helped to see who's in your classes, and it's really nice to have the mentors," North freshman Haley Price said.

South senior Trinity Fandre has been a mentor since she was a sophomore. She and many other mentors at South, West and North don't lose touch with the freshman in their groups after the first day program is over. They send emails asking how things are going or reminding them about activities, including such upcoming highlights as homecoming.

"The school is here to help them, we won't tell them the wrong thing, we want them to succeed," Fandre said.

Calming anxieties

Seemingly little things can be unnerving for freshmen.

Price said that she was surprised by how many people there were, especially when it came to lunch, an anxiety for many freshmen.

Webb and Albers said "lunchroom fears" is something people don't always think about it. Freshmen have practical questions running through their minds – like what table should they sit at (and if they should sit on the same table as older students) and what line are they supposed to be in.

Having that first day gives students an idea about what they might be walking into. The mentors also want to shut down the myth that upperclassmen will tease or harass freshman, by being friendly and encouraging.

"My mentor freshman year was really nice," Fandre said. "They were really helpful, and I wanted to do the same."

Part of team

Each school had its own twist on activities but all had some sort of team building element.

West High School had outdoor activities with wooden skis and rope that the students had to work together to move. There was also a pep rally for freshman as they walked in.

South played games like musical chairs or relay races.

North had games involving moving and making shapes together and drawing together with a special contraption.

"If we can make freshmen invest in their school, they'll make awesome seniors," said Sue Purpi, West freshman advisor.

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