High school students rarely exude excitement over the start of a new school year, but most of the 176 returning USD 408 students welcome falling back into familiar routines and environs with friends they’ve known for years.
However, MHS seniors Michael Beeler and Andi Marshall, junior Bailey Brown, sophomores Bree Fryman and Dylan Cochran, and freshmen Justin Terrel, Brandon Hiebert, Brian Hiebert, and Kyle Wegner will have a somewhat different experience.
These nine are the ‘new students’ – ones who aren’t new to school, but new to MHS.
Some came from schools that have similarities to Marion. Beeler attended Centre High School, while Cochran was in Chase County High School.
Others, such as Marshall and Fryman, came from large high schools in cities such as Wichita and suburban Minneapolis, Minn., where a single class was triple the size of the entire high school they now attend.
“When we were sitting in the auditorium with the senior class, I looked around and said ‘This is everybody?’” Marshall laughed.
Marion High School’s size lends itself to differing perceptions based on where a student came from.
“There’s a different vibe here, not negative, but different,” said Beeler, who attended Centre High School but moved to MHS for his senior year in part because of what he indicated was a stronger music program.
“Centre was smaller, so it seemed more inclusive,” Beeler said. He felt MHS didn’t feel quite as connected across groups.
“Maybe because this is a bigger school,” he mused.
For students who attended large schools, blending in and being anonymous is a thing of the past.
“Everybody knows everybody,” exclaimed Marshall, who attended 1,400-student Wichita West. “The principal knows you’re gone before you leave!”
Attending small schools in small communities where tightly knit groups can form across years of learning and living together is often seen as an advantage of smaller schools, but for new students it presents challenges.
“It’s difficult to get ‘in,’” Fryman remarked.
Beeler and Cochran both suggested being involved with activities such as Marion Singers, band, football, and wrestling helped them to make new friends.
MHS Principal Tod Gordon agreed activities provide opportunities to make connections with classmates early in the school year.
“Especially if they’re involved in fall sports, they get to meet kids awfully quick,” Gordon said.
While the school doesn’t have a formal system for indoctrinating new students into Marion High, Gordon takes several informal steps to help new students adapt to life at Marion High.
“The first thing I did was bought them a Marion Warrior T-shirt and introduced them at the assembly on the first day,” Gordon said.
Once his new students have settled in, Gordon plans to take them to dinner sometime in September, where they can talk in an informal setting and he can find out how they’re adjusting.
Gordon thinks the experience of being a new student may be most challenging for the freshmen, who are also having to adjust to life as high schoolers.
“It’s probably a lot easier for the older kids,” Gordon said. “The kids that came over from the middle school are nervous, and they just came across the hall.”
High school staff try to remain aware of signs throughout the school day that might signal a new student needs some assistance.
“I saw one new student sitting by himself in the lunch room, looking lost,” Gordon said. “They don’t always know where their next classroom is.”
In a period of declining district enrollment, Gordon pointed out the practical advantages of having new students come in from out of the district.
“That freshman class was awfully small – it started out at 28, so that was really nice,” said Gordon, noting four of the nine are freshmen.
“And in terms of school funding, you’re always looking for additional kids,” Gordon concluded.