The transition from middle school to high school can be intimidating and scary, but a program at Cherry Hill High School West tries to de-mystify and de-stigmatize the next step in the educational process.
Approximately 35 students from Rosa International and Carusi middle schools were shepherded through the halls of West on Jan. 15 for the first organized Shadow Day — a half-day session where attendees learn about the high school experience.
“In the past, we had done shadowing, and it’s always been haphazard,” said English teacher Carole Roskoph. “They would come in, they ended up shadowing their sibling or their friend and every kid left with a different experience.
“We were trying to figure out a way we can make sure each student who shadowed came away with a similar experience.”
Attendees were met by freshman peer leaders, listened to student ambassadors relate their particular first-year experiences, sat in classrooms, met with activity advisors and team coaches and were treated to lunch before departing.
“We’ve made two sets of baked ziti, one with meat and one without meat. We’re doing salad and a lot of cookie trays, because we expect the kids to take two or three cookies, and we’re baking about 100, 150 cookies today,” noted West senior Dawson Messias, a veteran of the school’s culinary program.
The visitors were also given a special copy of “The Lion’s Roar” student newspaper featuring an above-the-fold welcome message from Principal Dr. Kwame Morton, as well as articles from the freshman class about the benefits of committing to the school.
“We set up two days, today and Feb. 11,” Roskoph explained. “We may have to add a third day because the response has been so overwhelming. We do want to cap it. Today we had 35 students which is very manageable. We don’t know if we want to go higher than probably around 50.”
The teacher also said a possible third Shadow Day would be scheduled shortly after the February session, because the prospective students have to decide on a school and course selection fairly quickly, and West wanted to ensure they have all the information needed to make those decisions.
In addition to the Shadow Days, there will be an open house for parents scheduled for Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. in the West auditorium.
Reaction from participants was understandably mixed.
Rosa eighth grader Fiona Yampell, who plans to take up lacrosse and photography, said, “it was really cool sitting in all the classrooms. It’s a really big school and there’s a lot of space to cover.”
Fellow Rosa student Erin Houlihan — a prospective field-hockey player — also liked visiting the school, but hedged on becoming a Lion, offering, “I liked the teachers and meeting some of the students, but I don’t know yet, I have some other choices like Camden Catholic.”
Christopher Berry, another prospective West matriculator, was a bit more expansive in his opinion of the experience.
“It was interesting, the feeling of being in a room or in a hallway with all these mature, bigger people,” he enthused. “(The teachers and students) made me feel better about coming here. I think I might be going for some high classes, honors related, and I may try cooking, soccer — that’s a maybe. I may even go out for bowling.”
Carusi’s Michael Wilkins took a philosophical view: “It was great. I heard that we have a lot of freedom, so that’s cool. But I’m just kind of afraid that I’m going to get lost because it’s kind of a big school.”
Roskoph was cautious not to burden the first group of students with the responsibility of promoting West to the next groups of their peers who visit, but admitted a good first impression goes a long way.
“I’m sure they go back and talk about what they did,” she concluded. “They self-selected to come here; it’s not like we picked the kids to come. And the response was very positive and more students than we had anticipated were coming.
“It’s a good way for them to see what we do, who we are, what we have to offer them.”