The first week of August signals a shift in a community’s energy.
The laziness of summer starts to draw to a close, stores put out all their back-to-school items and folks rush to squeeze in just a little more vacation.
For area high schools, August is not only a time for fall sports tryouts and first football practices, it is also when young academics aging out of middle school hit the halls of the local high school for the first time.
Most high schools now recognize the importance of this transition and plan freshman events, whether like the Cougar Camp held recently at Wake Forest High or the Freshman Early Start Day taking place Aug. 23 at Wakefield High.
During Cougar Camp, Wake Forest High Assistant Principal Andrew Markoch emphasized to students and parents alike that transitioning to high school would probably be the toughest change students face — until they get married.
There’s a lot riding on the backs of these young ninth graders. Everything they do their first three years of high school will directly affect what they do for the rest of their lives.
As Markoch pointed out, when seniors are applying to college, the only scores available to show how well they are doing are the ones for their freshman through junior years.
While learning to study and perform academically at a higher level than ever before faces incoming freshmen, they must also grapple with a new level of freedom and expectation to direct themselves. There is plenty of help available for those who ask for it, but for the most part, students are on their own to sink or swim.
What can make the increase in pressure more bearable, however, is getting involved in the community aspect of school, whether in sports, drama, civic clubs or other organizations.
Wake Forest High has a new club beginning this year that is aimed to specifically help freshmen girls get their bearings for a good start to high school.
And it’s impressive.
The Wake Forest Sisters club is pairing up juniors and seniors, or Big Sisters, with freshmen Little Sisters.
“We all remember what it was like to come in as a freshman and be overwhelmed at all that was being expected of us,” club founder and President Sarah Sticklin said to parents at Cougar Camp. “We want to come alongside these freshmen and help them make a smooth transition.”
Sticklin, a senior, said that high school is not quite like the TV shows Mean Girls, but it can be hard for a young woman to find her place among the hundreds of other students.
“It can be different for girls than guys — girls can be a little more cliquish or standoffish than boys,” Sticklin said. “With the Sisters program, we can be the friendly face they see the first time they come in and need to find a class or have someone to sit with at lunch.”
Sticklin and fellow founder Melissa Trainer came up with the idea for the group following a trip they made to UNC campus last summer.
While they were there, they were encouraged to get as involved as possible as freshmen and that if they couldn’t find an organization to suit them, to create one.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘Why not do that at Wake Forest High,” Sticklin said.
The response from both the school and new students shows they are on the right track. So far, they have 44 Big Sisters lined up and 17 confirmed Little Sisters. And, according to Sticklin, a lot of parents showed interest at Cougar Camp.
They have a faculty advisor and the club leadership put in many hours of preparation in the spring to get ready for a launch this fall.
And they get continual offers of support from other faculty.
This kind of innovation and ability to solve real-world problems shows that in spite of some negative news we hear about public schools in general, our local institutions are working hard to accomplish their mission to have young people ready to hit adulthood following graduation.
Sticklin said she could not agree enough with Markoch’s encouragement for students to be involved at the high school level.
“You will never look back and regret you were involved,” she said. “Don’t wonder how it could have been. Just do it. This is what I’m passionate about — I want these girls to feel like they are a part of something here.”