New place, same feeling:

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Photos by Liv West

 

 

 

Every year, Ashland High School (AHS) hosts a unique orientation experience to welcome the incoming 9th graders. Fresh Start focuses on building community within AHS and constructing a safe, comfortable space for incoming students. The Fresh Start leadership is made up of counselors (around 75 selected Juniors and Seniors), AHS alumni and teachers. Fresh Start spans over a day and a half during which students separate into color groups and participate in teambuilding exercises and get-to-know-you activities, which challenges new students to expand their comfort zones and communicate with others, building a sense of community within their groups. Later in the evening, counselors and new students dig deep, asking and discussing profound questions, while sharing their personal experiences in this activity dubbed “Big Questions.”

This year Fresh Start encountered lots of changes and new leadership. After 24 years, Fresh Start director, Mark Schoenleber, crossed piranha river for the last time, passing the torch to AHS culinary teacher, Jacob Taub and Leadership teacher, Nora Godfrey, both of whom are AHS alumni. Taub, who has been an active member of Fresh Start for the past fifteen years, has taught fresh start workshops in various corporate settings and conducted a two-year research project, finding data that connected Fresh Start to a higher 9th grade success rate and a lower dropout rate. “Fresh Start has been a big part of my life and very much a guiding light in me working in education,” says Taub. “Mark had been retired for a few years and he had decided it was time to have a teacher that was at the high school take over. It was a tough transition, but it was clear that Nora and I were the right people for the job. It was very important to us that we carry on Mark’s legacy and make sure we were honoring the history of the program.” In addition to the new faces behind fresh start, there was also a new location. Historically, Fresh Start has been held at the Center for Meditative Studies. This year, just three days before the counselor retreat, it was discovered that the Meditative center would not be a possibility because of the poor air quality conditions in the valley. After some last-minute scrambling, Fresh Start was moved to the AHS library. Although Taub had some initial concerns that new students would struggle to disconnect from the outside world while at the high school, he was reminded of what Mark always stated: “Fresh Start is a feeling; it’s not a place.”

Fresh Start is a feeling; it’s not a place.”

Despite all the modifications in this year’s Fresh Start, it was a huge overall success and the welcoming effect that it had on new students didn’t change in the slightest. According to Taub’s research, students are actually more likely to reflect on their Fresh Start experience as a senior than they are as 9th graders, showing the lasting effect that Fresh Start has on high schoolers. “Whether conscious or not, Fresh Start helps students to feel a part of the Ashland community and to continue building on that legacy.”

 

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