If a casual open house on a February evening is any indication, high school’s not what it used to be.
And that’s a good thing.
Not that I had a bad experience myself, but as many would agree, high school can be a Petri dish for social anxiety and petty meanness.
So to reach a wholly different first impression was a pleasure, as we accompanied Little Miss Eighth-Grader to the opening round of orientation at Atascadero High School last week, which in and of itself was more than anything I can ever remember going through as an incoming freshman at my high school in the mid-1980s.
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The evening was a chance for the school to introduce its staff and programs to the next group of students, which will be the class of 2018 – kids born in the heady year of 2000, at the turn of the millennium, before Sept. 11, the Great Recession and all of the myriad angst that filled the decade of their births.
With that history, this group of eighth-graders and their parents received a warm and enthusiastic welcome from a school that clearly rates inclusivity among its goals.
From the opening remarks by Principal E.J. Rossi to each and every conversation we had with teachers, coaches and current students, the paramount mission appeared to be encouraging involvement and a sense of belonging.
The best line of the night came from one of the introductory speakers, who noted that no one need worry about getting thrown into a trash can, because that just does not happen anymore.
This, I’m sure, is a result of the evolving world of K-12 education, where bullying is now actively condemned, cliques are discouraged and the overall hope is that everyone in these tender years of 14 to 18 come together more as peers than as rivals.
If there were any development I would like to see added to the high school experience, it is just this approach, where teenagers are guided to mature more evenly in their social interactions and this critically formative environment becomes one more akin to college than junior high.
As we meandered from conversation to conversation, that was definitely the predominant impression – from coaches who urged the kids to take a chance and try a sport rather than be fearful of not making the team, to teachers and administrators who were clearly looking forward to another new crop of students and the strengths and talents they will contribute to the Greyhound family.
Also turning out to represent their school were several current students, who offered big smiles and firsthand accounts of their experiences.
It was especially comforting for the newcomers to find some familiar faces in the crowds, kids who’d already made the leap, and I was delighted to hear of efforts the school makes to cross grade barriers with mentoring programs between upper and lower classes.
All in all, this first visit to the school was a wide success.
Thirteen years have passed too quickly, and I’m sure the next four will blink by before we know it. I’m hoping it will be a joyful experience for this girl, filled with the kind of growth and accomplishments that vault her confidently into adulthood.
After our last stop of the night, we walked out talking with some friends while the girls chattered loudly up ahead.
When they passed the swimming pool, where some kind of aquatic activity was occurring, they hopped up on a ledge and yelled out, “Marco! Polo!”
High school hasn’t arrived quite yet.
They are still kids, after all.
Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @joetarica.