SCHENECTADY -- The halls are long and plentiful. The schedules are complicated. The lockers are bigger. And, for one calm morning, the Schenectady High School class of 2022 had the building to themselves.
“We’re kind of at: Most people have found their homerooms, right now,” said John Goyette, the freshmen class principal, as he walked the halls of the high school shortly after the start of the first day of classes Thursday.
The freshmen started the year with a half-day, visiting teachers, deciphering schedules and getting a quick tour of the sprawling building.
Divided into about a half-dozen freshmen teams, students met their classmates and got their first taste of high school. English teacher Kamal Tyson, one of the freshmen team leaders, led tours through the expansive high school, striding down largely-empty hallways as her students followed.
“It’s not the [in-school suspension] room,” she said, stopping at the Iceberg Room, where students can come for a moment of calm if they need one. “It’s a room if you need to chill. You might want to come down here, calm yourself and go back to your classes.”
The tour kept moving, past the guidance office, where students can sort out their schedules, before they stopped outside the school’s main office. As if waiting for each tour to pass, Principal Diane Wilkinson greeted her new students.
“The class of 2022,” Wilkinson said. “I love it. We are so thrilled you are here today. Come up and give me a high-five; tell me how you are doing.”
The students then walked past the auditorium and down the hallway to the fine arts wing, past the chorus room and the band room, past the theater room and the large black box theater.
“If you take dance, that’s here,” Tyson said as she pointed out a classroom.
And as the students gathered in the atrium of the fine arts wing – one of the coolest parts of the toasty school building Thursday – they stopped to sign big white sheets, promising to graduate in 2022. Joziah Vega. Sarah Persaud. Ginelle Torres. Tiffany Payne ... one by one, the students added their names to a joint commitment: make it to graduation.
Throughout the morning, school staff continued to reiterate the goal of the journey the students were beginning. Visiting the students as they sorted out their schedules with biology teacher Danielle Budlong, Goyette dropped by to say hello. He told them they could always visit his office, adding that he will be their class principal each of the four years they are in school.
“I’ll be your principal for four years, and then you are out of here,” Goyette said. “Why? What happens in four years?”
“I’m out of here,” said King Godley, one of the students. “Because I’m going to graduate.”
“That’s right,” Goyette said. “All of you will.”
But the students were largely focused on the here and now -- how to get to their next classes, how to get their lockers open and who their friends will be.
Tiffany Payne’s older siblings told her she would figure out how to get around the school; she wasn’t so sure on Thursday morning.
“I always say I’m going to get lost,” Payne said. “They just told me it’s one big circle.”
Atre‘v’ona Brown said she also expected to find herself turned around sometime soon.
“I think I’m going to get lost every day until I graduate,” she said. “I’m going to ask to go to the bathroom and never come back.”
But Atre‘v’ona also appeared to grow a little more confident and at home with each passing minute.
“I don’t know what I’m excited for: meet new people, discover the things I’m interested in, what I want to do with my future,” she said.
As she works her way through high school, Atre‘v’ona said, she wants to study art so she can work in cosmetology. Overhearing Atre‘v’ona’s goals, Tyson pointed out that, as a junior, she can study cosmetology through the district’s vocational programs.
The students spent most of their morning keeping to themselves or chatting quietly with old friends from middle school. Slowly, though, they appeared to make new acquaintances and started to reach out to new classmates.
Social studies teacher Andrew Rojas, who was in charge of helping the students crack the code on their lockers Thursday, said they would ease into the global studies curriculum over the coming days. The better the students get along and connect to each other, he said, the better they will do as the year progresses.
“The first couple of weeks are about building relationships and community in the classroom,” he said. “If you jump into content too soon, it backfires on you in the long run, when you are trying to get them through hard things.”