As classes in Berkshire County begin, schools are hosting special activities, events and mentoring programs to help new and returning students ease back into the academic habit.

On Wednesday and Thursday, St. Joseph Central High School hosted freshmen and new and international student orientation sessions during which students and staff got to mingle and tour the building prior to the official start of school on Wednesday.

Students got to dress casually, play games and ask questions. New principal Amy Gelinas was able to familiarize herself with dozens of new faces.

"I have found, comparing with years we didn't do it, that [doing orientations] improves success in the ninth grade and also makes the class bond in a different way," said Lillian Quinn, St. Joe's dean of students.

Quinn has been an educator and school leader for more than 40 years, and says research shows that students benefit from making human connections with school beyond classwork and taking the time to learn soft skills such as how to navigate a schedule, understand time management and learn strategies for studying. She said students who have these experiences and skills not only have more confidence but tend to get better grades.

The dean said students often come into a new school situation feeling scared, anxious or confused.

"I want to teach them to not be afraid," she said. "I want them to be able to walk by someone in the morning and say hello. By doing these activities, they're not being rushed into being a student.


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New students met for three hours on Wednesday and Thursday and now have the long weekend to relax before classes start next week, Quinn said.

The orientation strategy is regularly used with sports teams and other student group settings, she said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, Mount Greylock Regional High School students and staff offered tours for students who would be new to the building. Later this fall, on Oct. 23, the school will host a "Getting Acquainted Concert" to introduce the school community to the music program there.

Some schools, like those in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, hold half-day sessions to give both students and staff time to transition into the school year. Southern Berkshire held two half-days on Wednesday and Thursday, with the first full day of classes being held today.

The Berkshires' pre-K through Grade 12 schools aren't the only ones who offer student orientations. The county's four colleges have comprehensive back-to-school programs too.

Prior to Monday's start of classes at Bard College at Simon's Rock, the school held a week's worth of new student orientation programs, pre-semester writing workshops, advising programs and organized social events.

Those who use Twitter can follow the hashtag "#newephs" to see all the things happening with new students at Williams College. Williams is also hosting a number of public open house and kickoff events, such as the Department of Music's Open House scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Beginning on Sunday, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will begin its first days, by offering students activities such as campus tours, a hike up Mount Greylock, academic receptions, and even a karaoke night.

On Tuesday, Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield will host an ice cream sundae social for students, and a "Welcome Back Barbecue" on Thursday during which students can visit information booths about the college's various organizations and clubs.