KINGWOOD — Freshman year of high school can be scary.
“Our ninth grade struggles every year,” Carol Riley, attendance coordinator for Preston County Schools, said. “It’s a big struggle for our ninth grade to transition to the high school.”
That’s how the idea of freshman camp was born four years ago.
She did a survey of campers, asking them to rate how anxious going to PHS makes them. “It was heavy on the ‘a lot’ side,” Riley said. Most said they knew very little about getting around the high school.
Most of the freshmen said they knew only “a few” students who did not attend their middle school who would be entering high school. Most were familiar with sports, activities and clubs available at PHS.
“We find that they’re anxious about being around other kids they don’t know and they’re anxious about getting around the school. It’s a large school,” Riley said.
The camp lasted all last week. Team building activities helped students work with their peers from other middle schools. Scavenger hunts helped them learn the layout, history and teachers at the school, as well as the location of rest rooms.
On feedback forms, campers said, “after the scavenger hunts I am not afraid of getting lost like I was,” said Lisa Hileman, a teacher at camp.
Teacher Patrick McLaughlin focuses on team building and communication. Each day he leads an activity or game. “And in that process they really learn how to make and keep meaningful friendships. A lot of them have reported that they have made really close friends.”
Students from different middle schools are split among the groups.
“A lot of them come from small middle schools, and they get here and it’s sort of overwhelming,” McLaughlin said. “The ones who come [to camp], not only do they have some friends but they also have the ability to continue to make friends. It’s kind of like a head start for them.”
Sherrica Landis, a rising freshman from East Preston School, said she worried about starting PHS.
“I’m not used to all these people, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to make friends, and I’m going to get lost,’” Landis said. But she feels more comfortable after camp, which she called the best week of her life.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience like this. It was really fun,” Landis said.
Campers learned how to manage money and the dos and don’ts of ordering online. There was also instruction on time management and a presentation on college. Each camper received a personalized PHS planner, and each day they received breakfast and lunch.
Freshman camp teachers’ classrooms also serve as a place where campers can come in the fall, if they are lost or need help.
In her post-camp surveys, Riley said students have said, “meeting new friends,” was their favorite thing about camp. “They become familiar with other students and they go to class and sit down and say, ‘Hey, I know you, you were at camp!’”
About 34 freshmen attended camp this year. Students who attend the camp could ride shuttle buses from their communities. Band camp was also held this week, so the buses served multiple purposes.
Riley said they found that most of the student leaders who led eighth graders on tours of the school had attended freshman camp. “They were shy kids who blossomed and grew and became leaders in their class.”
Riley said the camp is made possible by a federal McKinney-Vento grant.
Preston High orientation for freshman and transfer students will be 4-6 p.m. Aug. 20. Students will receive their schedules then.