DALTON — When Jessie Downer and Colette Basiliere started as freshmen at Wahconah Regional High School four years ago, they were welcomed by faces, friendly but not yet familiar, of upperclassmen.
Those faces belonged to a startup group of enthusiastic students who wanted to do something special to help the freshmen feel more welcome.
"Frankly, it was a group of kids who came to us and said that there were things being said to kids that were not so nice, and they said that 'We, as kids, wanted to do something about it.' So we told them that they were going to be running the effort," Principal Aaron Robb said. "We took a chance."
That effort has grown into what's now known as the Discover Team, which Downer and Basiliere now lead as co-presidents. "Discover" stands for "Dedicated to Instill Strength, Confidence, Opportunities, Voices, Empathy, Respect."
"It was very helpful to us," Downer said. "I mean you come in as freshman, and you're going to school with 18-year-olds and you're 14. It's kind of scary. This makes walking into something new as something that's fun."
The team is now 45 members strong, and includes sophomores, juniors and seniors. They will be on hand from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. today as members lead a building tour for incoming freshman class members, transfer and new school choice students. The team also will run a ninth-grade orientation, from 7:50 to 11:20 a.m. Tuesday, which will include locker assignments, a new extracurricular program fair, and a scavenger hunt, as well as time to have lunch and socialize.
After the initial first days of interactions, Basiliere said, the Discover Team will plan a year of activities and monthly check-ins with the freshmen, based on a theme relative to supporting them.
"We mold to fit with the school's needs," she said. "We want to show [freshmen] that Discover is not just something these older kids want to put on their college applications. By checking in with them at least once a month, we want them to know that we really care."
For the second year, Central Berkshire Regional School District Superintendent Laurie Casna also has been involved with supporting the students.
"Thank you for doing this. If you need anything, let us know," she told the team during a planning meeting held on Wednesday afternoon at the high school. "I know if I were a ninth-grader, I'd be very appreciative of what you're doing."
Principal Robb said that this year, in addition to the Discover Team's efforts, a team of faculty members also will be stepping up to better support new students in the school and help foster a more communicative, supportive and thoughtful school environment.
"There are some anti-bullying elements to it, but it's more about learning how to treat one another," he said, "and to have the upperclassmen be the friendly faces in the halls to help them."
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.