On Being the New Kid

Frani O’Toole Co-Editor-in-Chief I was new at Latin my freshman year, and, since that first week, I’ve been planning to write a Forum article about being new at Latin. In pop culture, there’s a definite new kid narrative: the Cady Herons in Mean Girls, the Tai Frasiers in Clueless—all of them, outsider characters squeezing themselves into an unfamiliar, hostile-when-provoked social scene. Because half the class is new freshman year, the Latin new kid narrative isn’t exactly like that. I’d hesitate to even call it a single narrative, since some new kids join Latin already knowing a number of students, while others (myself included) know no one. There do, however, seem to be some shared experiences that fall under one of three categories: academic, extra-curricular, and social. I wouldn’t assign blame for any of these shared experiences/difficulties. It’s not the fault of students who enter high school having spent one, five, ten years at Latin. Nor is it the fault of the new kids. Nor the teachers, who make their classrooms some of the most welcoming spaces in the school. Nor the parents, nor the administration. And yet, addressing these experiences calls on every one of those parties to act as a collective—a community. 1) Academic. In some cases, new students at Latin are more advanced than the academic tracks they are placed in. Though it happens in all the honors disciplines, math seems to be where it is most common. Because placement is decided by scores on tests with no input by teachers, it’s difficult to assess where a student belongs. Sometimes, a wrong path can be self-correcting. Other times, there’s nothing to do. Because most area middle schools don’t offer Honors Algebra II, it’s difficult for new students to qualify for Honors Geometry. And that determines the student’s entire math trajectory—if you don’t take Honors Geometry freshman year, it is almost impossible to reach Multivariable Calculus, the most advanced math course offered at Latin. That class, this year at least, is exclusively kids who attended Latin in middle school. Academic issues extend beyond placement, though. Being a new kid can also make it harder to decide which electives to take freshman year, adjust to the workload, and understand the schedule. It’s worth noting, too, that some Latin middle school kids have the chance to participate in activities and get to know teachers in the Upper School, thus having a different starting point freshman year. 2) Extra-curricular. A number of Latin middle school clubs are designed to prepare students for high school options: my middle school, for example, didn’t have a junior Model U.N. or a newspaper club. Often, too, new kids aren’t as familiar with the offerings. I didn’t join Polyphony H.S.— the most formative group of my high school career—until two years after I started Latin, simply because I didn’t know enough about the program. Being a new kid, it’s possible that you lose valuable time in those organizations and miss out on experiences that would have been of interest. 3) Social. This is probably the trickiest to explain. And I don’t mean this category as a critique on the relative inclusivity/exclusivity of Latin. Sure, it probably says something that most social circles at Latin are, from freshman year to senior year, new kids and old kids. But I’d guess that’s more because one group is being extra inclusive, less because the other is being particularly exclusive. For the most part, my closest friends are the new kids I met early in my freshman year—we got to become friends out of our shared experience. And I wouldn’t have had it work out any other way. So when I talk about social differences, it’s about the less observable. Like having your best friends from middle school live and go to school elsewhere, with an hour train ride distance between you. It’s about not being able to reminisce about middle school or lower school days, and it’s about trying to acclimate to a totally new physical environment. I remember my new kid friends and I used to say when we’re going to college, we’re going to be pros at this [making friends, adjusting to a new school]. As someone who in a couple months will be a freshman in college, that confidence seems a bit misplaced. But it does make me think about my Latin experience in a different light—as someone who is about to be, again, the new kid. It has made me wonder, too, about what it means to be a senior: part of my experience as senior has been realizing that all the new kid issues—academic, extra-curricular, social, and otherwise—don’t matter so much in the long-run. For a long time, I think new was my word for haven’t quite found my place at Latin yet. Now, a couple months away from graduation, new is a word I don’t use so much anymore. Except, of course, in the dictionary sense: New—a condition that does not last.  ]]>