It is safe to say that the 2020-2021 school year has been far from normal. The Class of 2024 has been greatly impacted from having to start their freshman year remotely.
As the return of grade 9 and 12 students approached, Malden High hosted an open house event for freshmen and other new students on March 20th. In past years, the first two days of school were spent welcoming the incoming freshmen class to Malden High.
During those two days, freshmen would be given resources and a rundown on different aspects of their high school careers such as credits, grade point average (GPA), graduation requirements, extracurricular activities, and much more.
With the unusual start to the year, the incoming freshman Class of 2024 was not able to experience the typical freshman orientation they would have, had we started the school year in person.
The Malden High staff was mindful about the fact that a majority of the Class of 2024 has not seen or been in the building since the tours they took as 8th graders. With that being said, Amy Yu, the Guidance Counselor for Jenkins and Brunelli house freshmen explained that they wanted to ensure that students “were prepared to navigate around the building” before returning to in-person learning.
Jonathan Copithorne, a History teacher at Malden High, explained that in order to keep students and faculty safe, the school wants to “minimize that amount of lost students wandering the hallways trying to find where they need to be.” He also added that Malden High is "a big building and can be overwhelming for a newcomer.”
Alison White, the Guidance Counselor for Boyle and Holland house freshmen, expressed that it was important for the faculty “to make the grade 9 class feel comfortable and prepared.” In having this open house event, White believed that the students “gained a better understanding of what their day-to-day would look like at [Malden High].” White mentioned that “[the students] were also able to start building connections with staff, as well as their peers.”
Principal Chris Mastrangelo acknowledged that “[there is] a level of anxiety [with] coming back in [the] building, and [students] have not been back in [school] for a year.” He also added that, hosting this open house event “gave kids that opportunity to step into the building and get over that initial fear and anxiety without having to stay for the whole duration of a school day.”
While the City of Malden has progressed towards the reopening of schools and businesses, COVID-19 safety precautions have continued to be heavily enforced. Prior to the tours, all students were instructed to fill out a form to ensure that they were not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. For the duration of the tours, students and staff members were required to wear masks at all times. Additionally, students traveled in small groups in order to follow social distancing guidelines and to avoid overcrowding.
Many students were accompanied by their parents and caregivers for their tours of the building. Mastrangelo mentioned that while students were learning to navigate around the building, parents were given an opportunity to “see how well prepared the building was for students to return,” and he hopes that that was able to ease some of the fear that comes with returning back to school.
In their small groups, staff members led the students to some of the major locations around Malden High, which included the main office, the two cafeterias, the library, all four house offices, the gym, the auditorium, the gallery, the nurse’s office, the athletics office, and many other places. During the tours, staff members also provided helpful information and tips regarding the new changes with the hybrid learning model, how to read classroom numbers, how the building is structured, how to get from one house to another, and more.
Copithorne hopes that by having this open house event, the staff members were able to give the “new students a sense of community and belonging.” He sympathized with newcomers as he recalled how overwhelming his freshman year of high school was, and how he cannot imagine what it is like “to be a freshman in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic.”
Rebecca Corcoran, a History teacher at Malden High, hopes that after attending the tours, students “feel more comfortable” and emphasized that “the staff in the building are [there] to help [students] with anything they need.” Elaborating on that thought, Yu encourages students to “not hesitate to reach out for help.”
In terms of starting high school, Corcoran expressed that the freshmen class should “enjoy their high school experience,” explaining that “it goes by so fast, but [they are the years] you will remember... forever.” Copithorne agreed that “freshman year actually matters,” further explaining that “graduation might seem so far away, but [it will] be here in the blink of an eye.”
White explained that students should “make connections,” whether that is connecting with “your teachers, counselors, administrators, classmates.” Yu also mentioned the importance of taking “advantage of all the opportunities that [are offered] at Malden High School, whether that is classes, clubs, sports, internships, or scholarships.” Mastrangelo added that getting involved also “increases your connection with the school and other students.”
Copithorne expressed that he hopes “that the freshmen understood how excited [the] teachers are to get to know them.” He also acknowledged that “[the staff members] know that this year has been a challenge,” adding that they are looking forward to “returning to the welcoming and lively community that makes Malden High School so special.”