The youth population at Arlington High School increased by over 400 during the morning of December 13, as the current eighth grade students from OMS and others filed into the auditorium to begin their informational visit. The visitors, seated in their Aspire Groups, first received a short welcome from Principal Matthew Janger. The Aspire Groups were then broken up into 18 groups of 20 to 25 students, each having two volunteer AHS guides who would be with them throughout the next few hours. At this point, the rotations began.
Several groups remained in the auditorium to hear from Assistant Principal William McCarthy who spoke to them about the academic program–the curriculum, courses and electives–giving them an indication of the educational environment they would be entering in the fall. These students then remained in place to take part in a Q&A session with current student leaders from groups such as the Student Council, National Honor Society, and the Athletic teams.
Other groups followed their guides on a tour of the new building, seeing the STEM, VIsual Arts Performing Arts, and Humanities wings as well as the Cafeteria, Library, and Campus Center. At the same time, some groups learned about the various electives that would be available to them. The courses became real as the visitors walked into classrooms where AHS students were engaging in different Visual Arts disciplines, singing in the Chorus or playing in the Concert Band, pursuing their interests in the Culinary Arts, Fashion or Early Childhood Development, participating in Wellness activities, or exploring various facets of Computer Science.
By the time all the eighth graders returned to the main lobby to board the buses back to OMS, everyone had taken part in each of the four activities. During the process they had time to get to know their student guides and ask lots of questions as they took the first step to internalize what it was going to mean to be a high school student.
Transitioning from one school to another is stressful, and some researchers describe the move from middle school to high school as the most difficult. The eighth grade visit is designed to relieve some of the stress anxiety that the students feel by giving them the opportunity to interact with upperclassmen, see the environment, and get questions answered. Many of the AHS guides remember taking the tour themselves or have volunteered in prior years, putting them in a good position to anticipate what their visitors may be feeling and wondering about.
Planning and organizing starts in October, as Mr. McCarthy and his Administrative Assistant Jill Broughton explore and choose a date that won’t conflict with tests, field trips, or other activities. They work with Eighth Grade Assistant Principal Michelle Crawford to get all the names and understand which students might need specialized guides or accommodations. They put together a schedule and using feedback from prior years, structure a day that includes what the visitors will want to see.
Mr. McCarthy tries to involve AHS students in the organizing process as much as possible. Last year there were two senior academic interns that ran the entire event. This year most of the volunteers were organized by seniors. After all, as he says, “The students know the building and how it works first hand”..
The eighth grade visit is open to eighth grade students currently attending private schools. This year 18 of these prospective students attended. Mr. McCarthy maintains a list of private school students who show an interest in attending AHS, and he expects there to be about 27 of these rising ninth graders by June.
The high school transition can also be a time of anxiety for families, and that is why Mr. McCarthy holds a Guardian Forum in January. In addition to their own questions, parents and guardians often come with questions that their children have voiced after reflecting on the AHS tour. This Forum helps to make sure that students and guardians have all the information they need to choose courses in February. Additionally, the eighth grade students will be back in the high school on the last day of school in June. At this time they can look around again, participate in a scavenger hunt, and meet teachers and staff such as social workers as well as their dean.
Mr. McCarthy finds that the visit has benefits for the eighth grade teachers as well. Since the students get a solid glimpse of what going to AHS means, they don’t have to deluge their present teachers with questions. The teachers also run into some of their old students, and have the experience of seeing and interacting with them in a new way.
Mr. McCarthy expresses his overall feelings about the eighth grade tour this way: “We are a community here in AHS. We want to celebrate our seniors who are leaving and welcome the new members of our community. We want to make the transition as smooth and stress free as possible.”