Zooming Into Freshman Year

It is a particularly complex year for the freshman Class of 2024 to adjust to high school. As freshmen shift from their irregular summer to GDS’ virtual campus, they are facing new challenges while building relationships with their peers.

In past years, freshmen made connections during the bridge program and orientation before the start of school. They would go out to food trucks, chat in the Forum and explore the campus. Normally, making these connections with other students and transitioning into friend groups would come naturally. This year, that is not an option.

“It’s been difficult to get to know everyone via Zoom because being online takes away the social aspect of school,” freshman Lina Fawaz said. “I wish I were able to experience [freshman year] in person and have a chance to meet some new students and upperclassmen.”

Freshmen from other schools find themselves disadvantaged in comparison to those coming from GDS’ middle school. Cole Huh, who came from Alice Deal Middle School, described the challenge of starting a new high school.

“I have never had trouble making friends before, but it is difficult since it feels like you are trying to make friends in already existing friend groups,” Huh said. “I feel like I am becoming acquainted with many people but haven’t become close with anybody.” 

With some students having known each other since pre-K and others completely new, the mix of experiences adds to the challenges of being a freshman—especially in a virtual setting.

Freshman Claire Simon also expressed concerns about making new friends at GDS. “I would say the biggest disadvantage is not having many people to talk to, especially about classes,” she said, “and because I am running for SSC, it is harder not to have people know me.”

Not only is it difficult for new students to build relationships with their peers virtually, but learning how to use GDS-specific technology such as MyGDS and GDS email in a virtual setting presents another challenge for the students coming from outside of GDS. 

To help facilitate freshman relationships, administrators and teachers made adjustments and had new ideas to welcome freshmen and help them bond with their peers in a virtual space.

Ninth Grade Dean Abe Pachikara mentioned the efficacy of daily morning advisory check-ins and class meetings as virtual spaces for members of the freshmen class to get to know each other. “These have been super helpful in checking in on ninth graders as they navigate the GDS virtual campus,” he said.  

Pachikara also used many icebreakers for the freshmen in bridge, orientation and class meetings, such as “Would You Rather?” games and other introductory activities. He said, “I have slowly found out that some virtual icebreakers actually work really well. Others, not so much. However, I try to constantly remind myself that it is all a part of the adjustment and need for flexibility, and I just try to go with it!” 

Outside the classroom, a grade-wide group chat and smaller separate chats are a couple of other ways that freshmen are getting acquainted with each other.

Looking forward, the administration has planned in-person gatherings on campus with small groups of freshmen to give them a sense of normalcy. These gatherings, starting October 19, will be the first time that many freshmen see each other outside of Zoom classes.

Students and teachers such as Pachikara, Fawaz and freshman Georgia Maur-Batsaki are looking forward to seeing each other on campus. Maur-Batsaki hopes that once it is safe, the freshmen “could do a movie night or just all get together.” As Pachikara concluded, “It is a work in progress.” 

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!Current GDS high school students and teachers receive the newsletter automatically.