As freshmen took a deep breath and opened the doors and walked into Riverside-Brookfield High School either alone or with a friend or two for their first day of high school last week, they got a big surprise.
Waiting to greet them with applause, cheers and high fives were more than 150 upperclassmen – cheerleaders and pompon squad members dressed in their uniforms, football players, band and choir members and members of the RB Student Association.
The older students lined the walls of the hallway just inside the main entrance and created a welcoming corridor for the astonished freshmen to walk through.
The freshmen reacted with shy smiles and quizzical looks of shock, confusion, happiness and bemusement.
“It made me feel really welcome, because my brother was there and a lot of people I know from band were there,” said freshman Julia Buffo.
Buffo like every freshman came to her first day of high school with a mix of excitement and apprehension.
“On my way here I was excited and scared at the same time, because it’s a huge school and I’m used to smaller schools,” said Buffo, who graduated from L.J. Hauser Junior High School. “I’m excited to be in high school. Obviously the homework load will be more, so I’m a little nervous about that. I want to meet new friends, new people.”
The “clap in” for freshmen on the first day of school at RBHS is now in its third year and was brought to RBHS by Principal Pamela Byslma from Hinsdale Central High School, where a student came up with the idea about eight years ago.
Freshmen reported to RBHS on Aug. 15 at 8 a.m. for the first day of school, while upperclassmen didn’t have to come to school until 10 a.m.
But more than 50 upperclassmen came to school early just to make the freshmen feel welcome. The entire two-hour freshmen orientation was planned and executed by students.
“Students leading students is where you get the comfort level and the power,” Bylsma said. “We do an excellent job of making freshmen feel welcome.”
Freshmen first reported to the school auditorium where Bylsma and a variety of student leaders made brief welcoming speeches.
“You bring new energy, new talent and new ideas,” Bylsma told the freshmen. “You are one fourth of this school. You’re not a small section of it; you’re a big part of it. We expect you to be a leader right out of the box at RB.”
Then the band came out from behind the curtain and played the school fight song. The freshmen stood and looked a little confused, not knowing the words or what to do. After a pause the band played the fight song again and this time a few more freshmen joined in.
The freshmen were grouped, alphabetically, into homerooms. After the welcome they reported to their homerooms where three to four upperclassmen were waiting for them and handed them a list of the “Ten Things Every Freshman Should Know.”
No. 1: “Keep all handouts, worksheets, etc.; You will need them to prepare for finals.”
No. 7: “Wear blue and white every Friday to show your school spirit.”
The upperclassmen asked for volunteers to read from the list. Most freshmen were hesitant and volunteers were slow in coming at first. But those who read an item from the list were rewarded with a piece of candy.
The upperclassmen explained the intricacies of the fourth-period lunch. And they had other advice.
“Try not to get sick,” senior Marie Morgenthaler told the homeroom. And she had more advice.
“You don’t want to ditch,” Morgenthaler said. “It’s not cool.”
The upperclassmen led their homeroom on tour of the school. The building seemed immense to most of the freshmen.
“It’s a really big school,” said freshman Cameron Bolton. “I know where my locker is, so that’s a start.”
One girl on a tour was called aside by a security guard.
“Your shorts are way too short,” the security guard told the girl before quickly allowing the girl to go on with her homeroom’s tour.
There were the normal first-day-of-school glitches as some students couldn’t get their locks to work.
Freshmen went back to the auditorium to watch skits written and performed by upperclassmen about various aspects of high school life. One message “was don’t forget your friends if you get a girlfriend or boyfriend.” Another was “look beyond the stereotypes you may have of kids who went to other junior highs,” because “We’re all Bulldogs now.”
“They were funny,” said freshman Kierra Collins. “They kind of made sense, dealing with probably a lot of the stuff you would go through here.”
Collins, who stood somewhat shyly in the back of her homeroom, said that she didn’t know anybody in the room.
“I’d gone to school with like one person here or two people, but I didn’t really talk to them,” Collins said.
Collins who woke up a 5 a.m. for her first day of school said she got some advice from her older brother and sister, both RB graduates.
“They were like just, you know, get involved as much as you can, meet a lot of people and, really, like, just make a difference at the school,” Collins said.
Bylsma was happy with the way the freshmen orientation went.
“The older students that were involved in planning the orientation, the executive board, did a superb job in putting together an engaging, warm, informative orientation that helped the students feel, I think, not only welcomed, but well prepared for the day and their freshman year,” Bylsma said.