On Monday, Aug. 22, Laurel High School Principal Dwayne Jones sat behind his laptop inside a conference room in a corridor just behind the school's main office. The faint ringing of phone calls buzzed from the receptionist's front desk, as Jones' voice echoed over the intercom.
"We're asking staff and student volunteers and helpers to be out in the hallways, assisting our class of 2020 as they report to their third period A-day class," Jones said.
Within seconds, roughly 500 freshmen students filled Laurel High's halls with their class schedules in-hand, searching for their next destination in the day's freshmen orientation. Jones said upperclassmen would join the incoming freshmen the following day, creating a student population of 1,850 to 1,875 in the 2016-2017 school year.
"As you can see by the shirt, freshman year counts," Jones said, pointing to those words in bold on his black T-shirt. "We're telling the freshmen about the fact that we need them by the end of the school year to be 10th-graders [and] to get the credits they need to move from ninth grade to 10th grade."
During orientation, freshmen were given a "crash course" on life at Laurel High School, participating in an information session and scavenger hunt organized by school staff and upperclassmen. Later in the day, freshmen visited their teachers for both their A- and B-day classes in a meet-and-greet session, where they learned more about the subjects and supplies they needed.
"The first step is building relationships. We're asking teachers to build relationships with students," Jones said. "I think it's a great thing to let them know that everything they do does matter, that it's important and that they're important. We know that there's angst for any student when they're coming from one grade to the next grade. I think it just makes that first day, when 1,200 to 1,400 other students are going to be added to them, that much easier."
Roaming the halls for lost students, Jones passed math teacher Tom Miller at one of the building's corners. Miller said he helped organize freshmen orientation, while preparing for his new role as a sponsor in the Student Government Association.
The trigonometry and pre-calculus teacher said he's excited to meet with his new students one-on-one and help them find their footing in the new high school environment
"It's a new year, new life, new classes, new kids and new start," Miller said. "Freshmen year can be scary. It's your first time in a big place. So, [freshmen orientation lets them] see teachers in a more relaxed environment."
On the other side of the building, new Laurel High teacher KeShawn Taylor prepared his classroom for the school year. The Eastern Shore native said he was entering his second-year of teaching but his first in Prince George's County.
Taylor will teach English 10, three levels of television production, journalism and journalism/newspaper.
"I'm very excited to be here at Laurel High School," Taylor said. "When I knew I was coming to Prince George's County, Laurel was actually one of the first schools I came and visited. I walked around, met the office staff and I started to drive around the community. A lot of the parents and community members I ran into just had a lot of positive things to say about Laurel."
As he learned more about his new teaching grounds, Taylor said parents praised Laurel High for encouraging students to exceed in their education. At that moment, he said, Taylor knew the school was where he was supposed to be.
Freshmen orientation is crucial to new high school students, Taylor added, providing step-by-step guidance throughout the school grounds rather than throwing students into the rush of a regular school day. Taylor said a typical first day of schools moves at a much faster pace, with upperclassmen crowding the halls and classes starting in full swing.
"It's very important for [freshmen] to have that day to do it on their own to start putting the pieces together," he said. "For me, meeting the students, being able to set goals that they have for themselves and work toward those academically, intellectually and systematically is what I'm striving for this school year."
After helping the class of 2020 hit the ground running, Jones said he plans for a great school year and to provide the students of Prince George's County and the city of Laurel with the best education possible.
"We know that if you move from ninth grade to 10th grade in that one year, the chances that you're going to be a graduate in the class of 2020 are five-times greater than if you have to repeat a class or repeat a school year," Jones said. "That has always been our goal, is to take a year, look at it and see how we can make it better for the next year. [The freshmen] seem to be attentive, so I think it's going to be a good year."