9th Grade Orientation Gathers Old and New Friends Together

The atrium at the Upton Street Building had, for a morning anyway, turned into a clothing and linens sorting station as some members of the class of 2025 gathered for one of the final activities of their 9th grade orientation.

“Oh, it’s so little!” declared one student, holding up a tulle-skirted dress appropriate for any pint-sized ballerina.

“Will this fit a 4-year-old?” another student asked a nearby adult while holding up a t-shirt that was sized more for a preteen than a preschooler. When told it was a bit too big, the shirt went into the pile marked “other.”

Some of the class stayed on campus to sort donated clothing and household linens for A Wider Circle and Interfaith Works, while others headed across Wisconsin Avenue to do some landscaping cleanup at McLean Gardens. It was the culmination of orientation, which aimed to build community among the School’s newest Upper Schoolers, whether they’d been at Sidwell Friends for years or were just starting their time at the School. On some level, they were all new.

“I’ve never even been into the [Upper School] building,” said Grace Quash ’25, who has attended Sidwell Friends since pre-kindergarten. “So even though I’ve been at Sidwell for a long time, it was really nice that we got to see our lockers, see where our classrooms are, stuff like that.”

Orientation began a few days earlier for 9th graders with the transition program, which is aimed at students who are just entering Sidwell Friends.

“Our major emphasis is that the students feel excited and have a sense of belonging,” said Upper School Assistant Academic Dean and Interim 9th Grade Dean Laura Barrosse-Antle. “And that they come out of it with an understanding of some of the basics of Quakerism and some of the culture of our community.” That meant that they traveled to Langley Hill Friends Meeting House in McLean for a Meeting for Worship and information session on Quakerism, filled backpacks at longtime School partner A Wider Circle, and attended panels with student leaders and others who could offer the inside scoop on the School.“The kids do a lot of that work for us, and a lot of times we just try to get out of the way.”When the current Sidwell Friends students began their orientation, there were still nuts and bolts to deal with—getting laptops, figuring out how to open a locker—but the focus became forging the Class of 2025 into a community.

“We can help them with the School-related stuff, but a lot of times what students worry about is, ‘Who will I sit with in the cafeteria? How will I meet people? How will I make new friends?’” said Barrosse-Antle. So every morning students arrived at the library to find activities ready for them, and bonds were formed over card games, puzzles, and conversation. “Obviously it’s important that students know what the rules are and how to get into the building and all that, but I do think that the community-building aspect of it is much more salient,” Barrosse-Antle added. “The kids do a lot of that work for us, and a lot of times we just try to get out of the way.”

As is tradition, orientation ended with community engagement, centering its importance to the life of Sidwell Friends. Students who have known one another for years mingled with newfound friends as the discussions ranged from the Nationals to Netflix’s new version of Cinderella to whether or not a dress should go in the “professional clothing” pile. Unless you asked, you’d never know who were the “new kids” and who were the old-hands. That, says Barrosse-Antle, is the point.

“That’s the most important thing about orientation,” she said. “This is where they start making friends across boundaries of wherever they went to middle school.”

 

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