Masuk High School’s building has over 260,000 square feet of living space, which can be intimidating for incoming freshmen to navigate. In fact, finding all of their classes was among the biggest fears expressed by students at Fresh Fest, the school’s annual freshmen orientation, Friday morning.
While considering her biggest concern for the start of school, incoming freshman Marissa Lee said, “knowing where to go and not getting lost.”
“Getting lost,” Kaitlyn Lapine, a fellow freshman, agreed, before smiling and adding, “but I will anyway.”
Diane Gaber, a science teacher, said Masuk’s new students will each have a map and the principal, Dr. Jacob Greenwood, who is in his second year, offered his take on the situation.
“The building is shaped like an ‘E” and there’s a main hallway,” he said. “Once they know where the main office, cafeteria and library are, then it’s smooth sailing from there.”
Masuk’s enrollment now stands at 1,022 with 238 freshmen, according to Greenwood, though those numbers will not be finalized until October.
“Fresh Fest is just a time for the kids to get acquainted with the building, get over some of the nerves and to hopefully have a safe, welcoming place for our students,” Greenwood said. “They also get to meet their teachers.”
Assistant Principal Julia Strong, who organizes Fresh Fest, said participation by incoming students is always over 90 percent. On Friday, the day started in the Masuk auditorium at 8 a.m.
Strong told the audience of young men and women that their teachers and administrators would talk about Masuk’s culture and get to know them.
“This is such an important day that our superintendent and assistant superintendent are here,” Strong said, motioning toward Superintendent of Schools Jack Zamary and Assistant Superintendent Joseph Kobza, who both stood by the entrance together. “This is an important day to get you started.”
Greenwood addressed his new students, telling them he feels a special connection to the Class of 2023, because his own family will be going through the same experiences they will. Greenwood’s son will be starting his first year at Pomperaug High School in the fall.
Greenwood said students have a lot more freedom in high school, but it comes with responsibility. He added that it’s most important how students behave when teachers and staff are not watching.
He encouraged freshmen to get involved by doing extra curricular activities. Greenwood said Masuk has over 60 clubs and 40 sports teams. Fresh Fest includes a Clubs Fair, where teens can learn about different clubs and join.
Greenwood stressed the most important thing to make students’ academic year successful is for them to do their homework.
“Right now, it may feel like there are a lot of students in the building,” he said. “It’s very important to care for each other. Watch out for each other. Our mantra is ‘work hard. Be nice. Be kind to one another.'”
‘We are here to help you’
Ann M. Odoy, a secondary instructional leader in pupil services, talked about Masuk’s counselors and showed pictures of each one and how students can tell which one is theirs by how their names fall alphabetically. She encouraged all freshmen to get on their counselors’ calendars for appointments.
Odoy said counselors help upperclassmen apply for colleges and help all students with any concerns in their day-to-day lives, from anxiety and drugs to an illness or death in the family.
“We are here to help,” she said. “We would never say anything to anyone without your permission.”
Odoy said there are some exceptions, such as concern over self harm or the potential to hurt others.
School Resource Officer Brooke Larsen also spoke to the class. She said she wears three hats, counselor, mentor and the one she doesn’t want to have to put on: law enforcement.
Larsen revealed that she is a Masuk graduate of 2004, adding half of her teachers are still there. She said she played sports and enjoyed her high school experience. “This is an awesome school,” Larsen said. “That’s why I’m glad to be back.”
Students take the lead
At the end of the morning pep talk, Greenwood and Strong got onstage together and used their cellphones to take a class picture.
Throughout the day, around 100 upperclassmen volunteering as student leaders wore black T-shirts to identify themselves, so the incoming freshmen knew who to turn to when they had questions.
The teenagers broke up into groups and student leaders gave guided tours of the building.
Among the student leaders was soon-to-be Masuk junior Rachel Kass.
“I was really nervous when I came to high school and the Fresh Fest helped me out and it helped a lot of my friends,” Kass recalled, “so I want to make the incoming freshmen feel comfortable now.”
Emma Dulude, who will also be a junior this year, worked with other volunteers in a tour group.
“Freshman year was a scary time,” she said, looking at the students in her group and adding, “Fresh Fest helped me, so I’m hoping it will help you guys. Even on the first day of school, I did have to ask questions while navigating the hallways.”
Gaber walked the halls with Dulude’s group. “This is a great opportunity for the freshmen to navigate through the halls and speak with the upperclassmen,” Gaber said, “and knowing they were nervous and had anxiety, it reassures them it will be okay.”